Two-thirds of our state parks will close by June 3. That means Picacho Peak, Tombstone Courthouse, Tubac Presidio, Sedona's Red Rock State Park and many others will lock their gates.
It's a foolish, short-sighted, economically destructive move.
When I think of Arizona, I think of sun, saguaros and wide open vistas. That's what led me to visit the state half a dozen times while I was teaching in rainy Oregon, and it's what lured me to settle here six years ago.
Tucson is a decent enough city. Southern Arizona's proximity to Mexico and its rich Hispanic and Native American heritages are definite pluses. But that's not what drew me here as a tourist or a resident. It was sun, saguaros and beautiful, accessible spaces.
But the Republican-majority legislature decided to decimate the state parks in its mad rush to destroy essential programs so it can cut taxes for corporations — which, according to conservative magical thinking, will make new revenue fall like rain on a parched desert.
It's a terrible move for state residents who will lose access to some of our prime historical and recreational areas. It will likely result in crime and vandalism in the closed parks and, in places like the Homolovi Ruins, cause permanent, irreparable loss of some of our archeological treasures.
And it's going to cost towns and businesses money. Visitors to state parks spend $266 million a year in nearby communities, according to a study by the Northern Arizona University School of Business. Many small towns, already devastated by the economic downturn, will take a double hit as tourist dollars stop rolling in.
But the tourism hit won't be limited to communities near the closed parks. The flow of dollars will slow statewide. A state's reputation is a fragile thing. It doesn't take much to change a family's travel plans from Arizona to some equally attractive locale. I'm not likely to choose a restaurant if I hear half the items on its menu are crossed off, and tourists are going to go elsewhere when they learn their options in Arizona have been drastically cut back.
What draws people here? We don't have Disneyland or the Pacific Ocean like California. We don't have New York's Big Apple. What we have is year-round sun and magnificent open spaces. And we're telling potential visitors, you can peer at our natural wonders through padlocked gates, but, sorry, they're closed for business.
And speaking of business … All the tax breaks in the world aren't going to lure businesses to a broke, broken state. Business people read the papers. Here's the message they're getting: Arizona's schools are under-funded and our children are under-educated. Our parks are shut down. Forget about taking a potty break on our highways now that the rest stops are closed. Our government is so broke it's selling its buildings to the highest bidder.
"But hey, you might save a few bucks in business taxes if you move here. So pack up your bags, bring the kids and join our economic disaster."
Here's something that may explain why our Maricopa-heavy legislature was so willing to wipe out park funding. Maricopa County has no state parks. It runs its own park system. So the Phoenix-area Republicans who control the legislature won't see any padlocked parks in their back yards. The towns sustaining the direct economic damage and the communities that will lose their recreational treasures are far away from Maricopa legislators' voters.
Cutting our state parks is just one part of the madness that's taken over the legislature. Our children's futures are in jeopardy as we offer them cut rate education and take away their health care. All state services are being slashed to the bone.
Why? To let Republican legislators offer tax breaks to their corporate donors and honor their No New Taxes commitment to an organization in Washington, D.C. It's a failure of leadership of epic proportions.
Dave Safier is a regular contributor to Blog for Arizona.