An attack on Heritage Funds looms

By now, everyone knows that the state of Arizona is facing some serious budget woes. It is a story we hear time and time again: There's not enough money to fund all of the state's wonderful "worthwhile" programs.

So the governor and the Legislature are looking for ways to come up with the money to ease the state's financial woes, and in their sights now is what might be the most sacred of all cash cows, the Heritage Fund.

The Heritage Fund was passed twice, the last time in 1990, as an initiative that saw almost 70 percent of the voters in the state giving the thumbs up to this fund. Heritage gives up to $10 million annually to the Arizona Game and Fish Department from lottery ticket sales.

What most folks don't know is that some of that $10 million is used by the department as matching funds for grants with the federal government and that translates into many more dollars ultimately for Arizona and the wildlife.

Now, Gov. Jan Brewer in her proposed 2010 budget that was unveiled in mid-January wants to take or "sweep" all of the Heritage Funds and redirect them into the state's general fund.

If that occurs, and it shouldn't, here are some of the impacts that will be felt not only to sportsmen but by all Arizona residents.

Game and Fish Deputy Director Bob Broscheid said, "Adoption of this proposal could have significant impacts on Arizona's land use and growth that will be vital for the state's economic recovery, as well as affecting outdoor recreationists and the future well being of the state's wildlife."

Game and Fish is the only state agency that doesn't receive state tax dollars to run its operation, and as such, isn't a burden to the taxpayers of Arizona.

As a matter of fact, if ALL the state's agencies were run as efficiently as Game and Fish, then the state probably wouldn't be in this financial mess it's currently in!

Besides the Heritage Fund, it is no secret that Game and Fish's watercraft fund will also be swept. And the money being generated from the OHV program that was enacted a couple of years ago is also being eyed by legislators and a governor who want to try and fix the budget at any cost.

The department has produced a 30-minute video presentation that every citizen should take the time to watch. It tells in a lot of depth just what the loss of the Heritage Fund would mean to the department, citizens and wildlife. You can view that presentation by going to www.azgfd.gov.

I've been told that even if all the money was swept from G&F, the end result is that it would only make up about 1.7 percent of the funds needed to make the state's budget right again.

The Heritage Fund is a huge benefit for wildlife and all Arizona citizens. There are many success stories out there, and every county in Arizona, including Mohave County, has benefitted from the Heritage Fund.

I sent e-mails to our local state representatives seeking their views on the Heritage Fund sweep and got replies from both Rep. Nancy McLain and Rep. Doris Goodale.

As usual, Sen. Ron Gould didn't bother to respond to my e-mail asking for his take on the matter.

Both McLain and Goodale say they support Game and Fish and will do everything they can to protect the Heritage Fund.

Goodale said she had, "lots of concern with loss of Heritage Funds."

McClain noted that "G&F is working on a plan to protect Heritage Funds by finding other funds that might be contributed to the state's deficit problems."

Bottom line is that the Heritage Fund has done a lot for Arizona: its people, lands and wildlife. It needs to be protected.

Voters overwhelmingly supported the initiative in 1990, and I bet a majority still does today.