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Tue, Sept. 17

2 props seek to boost ailing Arizona budget

State legislative leaders warn that if voters don't approve propositions 301 and 302 on the Nov. 2 election ballot, the Legislature will have to make millions of dollars worth of new cuts to this year's budget and future budgets.

"There will be a lot of bad things happening if these (propositions) don't pass," warned Senate Majority Whip Steve Pierce, R-Prescott. The Legislature put both propositions on the ballot.

Those cuts will come in some of the last resort areas such as education, social services and public health care, Pierce said. Those are about the only areas left to cut after previous major cuts, he said.

House Majority Whip Andy Tobin, R-Paulden, and Republican LD1 candidate Karen Fann of Prescott also support both propositions to help the state's ailing budget.

Both propositions seek to take money from funds created by previous voter-approved ballot propositions that got on the ballot through citizen initiatives, putting the money instead into the state's general fund.

Prop. 301 would take "Growing Smarter" money now used to conserve special state trust lands, such as important wildlife habitat. Voters approved the idea in 1998. Local trust lands that groups are trying to conserve include Glassford Hill and "P" or Badger Mountain.

Prop. 302 would take "First Things First" money now used for early childhood health care and education. The First Things First money still would go toward health and human services for children, but the Legislature would decide where. Pierce said it probably would go into the Department of Economic Security.

Growing Smarter's annual $20 million appropriation already comes from the state coffers, and its appropriations are scheduled to expire this year anyway.

First Things First money comes from an 80-cent tax on packs of cigarettes.

The Yavapai County Regional Partnership that oversees distribution of First Things First money in this county allocated $3.6 million to early childhood development applicants this year. Their programs include teaching parenting skills, child care center quality improvement, mental and physical health consultants for child care centers, nurse home visitation for children in foster care, emergency food boxes, diapers, books, child care center scholarships, foster care system improvements, child care provider scholarships, community coalitions, home visitations to improve parenting skills and child health, and United Way's "Successful Lives" project.

"It's well-intended, but we can't afford it right now," Pierce said.

Prop. 301 would move about $50 million from the Growing Smarter's Land Conservation Fund to the state general fund, according to Secretary of State Elections Director Amy Bjelland. Only one supporter filed a comment in the state publicity pamphlet, the Arizona Tax Research Association. Six opposition statements include those from the Sierra Club, Arizona Education Association and League of Women Voters.

The state general fund could get an estimated $325 million annual boost from the First Things First fund. Supporters include the Arizona Tax Research Association and Arizona Chamber.

Prop. 302 has more than 50 opponents in the publicity pamphlets, including groups that receive First Things First money. Several groups also have put money into a campaign against the proposition, including several Indian tribes (such as the Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe), the Children's Action Alliance and the Arizona School Boards Association.

Legislative District One Democratic candidates have voiced opposition to both propositions. LD1 House candidate Lindsay Bell said both the Land Conservation Fund and First Things First are good programs. LD1 Senate candidate Bob Donahue said the Legislature shouldn't thwart voter-approved initiatives, and argues that children establish their education patterns by the age of 5 so First Things First is important to Arizona's future.

Fann said the Land Conservation Fund is not that effective, and First Things First programs are "bells and whistles."

For more information, see the Secretary of State's website at www.azsos.gov.

PROP. 301

Analysis by Arizona Legislative Council

The Land Conservation Fund consists of monies appropriated from the state general fund and money received as donations. $20,000,000 was appropriated annually for 11 years from the state general fund to the Land Conservation Fund. The final appropriation is scheduled in fiscal year 2010-2011. Money in the fund must be used to award grants to:

1. Acquire and conserve state trust land or development rights in state trust land.

2. Implement conservation based management or reduce production on state lands leased for agricultural purposes.

Proposition 301 would transfer the remaining balance in the Land Conservation Fund to the state general fund.

PROP. 302

Analysis by Arizona Legislative Council

Proposition 302 would:

1. Redirect the ongoing tobacco tax revenues that are currently deposited in the Early Childhood Development and Health fund for deposit in the state general fund, to be separately accounted for and appropriated for health and human services for children.

2. Transfer any remaining uncommitted Early Childhood Development and Health fund money to the state general fund on December 1, 2010.

3. Terminate the Arizona Early Childhood Development and Health Board on Dec. 1, 2010.

4. Repeal the Early Childhood Development and Health program statutes on June 1, 2011.

The Early Childhood Development and Health Fund consists of revenues generated by an $.80 per pack tax on tobacco products and donations and state appropriations. The fund is administered by the Arizona Early Childhood Development and Health Board and is required to be used for the following purposes:

1. Funding central and field offices, employing staff and establishing and appointing regional partnership councils, which make funding recommendations to the board.

2. Disbursing money for programs and grants that increase the quality of and access to early childhood development and health services for children up to 5 years of age and their families.

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