Gov. Ducey signs bill to reinstate Heritage Fund

Though it’s not exactly what we wanted, this is a positive step towards ensuring Arizona’s beautiful landscape stays that way for our future generations.

Gov. Doug Ducey signed 40 bills late Friday afternoon and among them was one that reinstates a program that once gave millions of dollars to state parks and open spaces.

Those projects received funding promised to them by voters from the Arizona State Parks Heritage Fund.

But while the new law puts the program back in statute, projects covered under it will likely not see any money for another decade.

Senate Bill 1241, sponsored and shepherded through the state Legislature by Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, does not provide funding but creates a system to funnel money back into it starting in 2029. Brophy McGee told The Republic last week that the bill was a "step forward," even though it wasn't exactly what she had hoped for.

She and Rep. Joanne Osborne, R-Goodyear, sponsored near-identical bills, but Osborne's added a $10 million budget appropriation that did not pass. Neither of the lawmakers could find the money for it, even though there was a large surplus, because there were many competing demands, such as K-12 education funding and public safety.

"It was a budget ask for both of us, but some of them get in and some of them don't," Brophy McGee told The Republic.

They were hoping for $10 million because that's what the fund originally got from the state lottery each year when it was still active. The money was distributed by a commission through grants to cities or other groups that applied for it.

Brophy McGee's bill does not and cannot guarantee any money until at least 2029 because the lottery proceeds were taken away from the fund by the state during the Great Recession and used to pay off debt.

The fund was set up by a voter initiative that passed overwhelmingly in 1990. It got up to $20 million annually and split that money between the parks fund and the Game and Fish Heritage Fund, which still gets $10 million a year from lottery money.

Osborne said it was a tough ask because the lottery money, which still has about $30 million left over annually, is now part of the general fund, which many lawmakers are hesitant to draw on. 

"That's when people start to get concerned because everything else that everybody cares about then sees that as a threat," Osborne told The Republic on May 30, adding it was "something else that we have to account for in our ongoing monies." 

Osborne and Brophy McGee worked with supporters like Janice Miano, president of the board of directors for the Arizona Heritage Alliance, a nonprofit group aiming to bring back the program. Miano told The Republic in an earlier interview that she was pleased the Legislature could agree on something, but disappointed it couldn't find the money.

Miano said she is "not sure where the money will come from in the meantime."

“We’re a little concerned that there’s no money until 2029, but we’ll work to get money through a bill next year,” Miano told The Republic May 30.

The longer the Heritage Fund stays empty, the longer these community projects, many in rural areas, will remain stalled and be forced to find money elsewhere.

Those projects included new parks, trail and campground maintenance, outdoor recreation and open space development, historical preservation projects and outdoor and environmental education.

Miano and the rest of the Arizona Heritage Alliance board will try to figure out what's next and hold a public board meeting in the Old Senate Chamber at the Arizona Capitol Museum on June 26 at 10 a.m.

Brophy McGee's bill does allow the fund to receive grants and donations, but Miano said, that likely won't help much if at all.

"I really don't think there will be anybody who will come up with the kind of money we'll need," Miano said.