As state revenues continue to nosedive, the state Legislature is once again turning to rural Arizona to carry a large part of the burden of the state’s fiscal mismanagement. Whether it be counties having to absorb judicial salaries and health funding or state parks being closed across the state, rural Arizona is once again disproportionately impacted by many of the proposals being considered to balance the budget this fiscal year.
This is why it’s more important than ever for rural Arizona to have strong representation at the capitol. Building a strong relationship with leadership is critical, better positioning my ability to protect my rural constituents. As a state senator, my obligation is to minimize these impacts and ensure that the pain of the state budget is spread across the entire state, not just its rural areas. Accordingly, I am working on the following:
In our last special session in December, the Legislature inadvertently removed funding from the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) budget that was intended to be used for snow removal on state highways. The winter storm we experienced in January demonstrated the critical importance of snow removal and the consequences of snow on public safety and our local economies.
I am working with legislative leadership and ADOT management to ensure that the funding is restored and our highways remain clear. The state must continue to take responsibility for its own highways.
In response to budget reductions, ADOT is also proposing to close MVD offices in several District 5 communities, including St. Johns and Clifton. I am working with local leaders in those communities and ADOT leadership to find a cost-neutral means of keeping those offices open. In response to my request, the City of St. Johns has offered space to MVD for its office. The Town of Clifton is also offering to pay the utility costs if its MVD office remains open. These are cost-effective solutions that do away with the need for ADOT to close those offices.
Several state parks in District 5 are scheduled to be closed as a result of state funding cuts. The Tonto Natural Bridge State Park in Payson, Lyman Lake State Park in St. Johns, and Roper Lake in Graham County are among numerous parks that the state simply can no longer afford to keep open. The State Parks Board has tried to keep some parks open, but the state simply cannot fund parks when we are cutting education and welfare programs.
As an alternative, I am proposing a series of partnerships between the State Parks Board and local communities, including St. Johns and Payson, to keep those parks open. The plan would include those communities absorbing some of the cost of maintaining those parks in exchange for the state keeping them open. All of these parks provide an enormous benefit to their neighboring communities; it is in their interest to contribute to keeping them open.
I was recently co-chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee on Mining Regulations. We held meetings over the last two months with state agencies and stakeholders. We are introducing an Omnibus Mining Bill that will streamline the permitting process, stop duplication of permits between state agencies, enact legislation designed to give Arizona relief from lawsuits, including those on federal lands, and limit the state from adopting requirements more stringent than those at the federal level. Hopefully this will help maintain and create jobs.
My constituents elected me to represent them at the capitol. This not only means limiting government and reducing spending, but finding creative ways to maintain important programs at as low a cost as possible.