Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Arizona State Lands proposal brewing

A deal to push a voter initiative for State Land reform is advancing. Some conservation groups and organized educators are getting closer to a first step for possible better conservation of State Lands, which AZ has 9.3 million acres of across the state. State Lands are now sold for development to highest bidder to provide a small percentage of funding to schools, often fueling urban sprawl.

The State Lands initiative, as now proposed, would be modest and perhaps viewed as too weak by some greens. One of the more problematic provisions would allow highway and energy projects on 'conservation' lands. Another argument may be over the small 700,000 acres that would be proposed for 'conservation', out of 9.3M. Some conservation groups will likely push in the upcoming month to add more lands to the proposal, including important areas left out of the draft due to the limited involvement in the process. Many environmentalists may not endorse the proposal, but also may not strongly oppose. Gov. Hull's weak Prop. 100 a few years back was defeated in part due to wide green and public-interest concerns.

One thing is clear, it seems most everyone wants a 'deal'. Something to advance conservation of State Lands. If an initiative is pushed and makes the ballot, many greens and others will see it as a first step, but educators and developers will likely consider it a done deal for at least 20 years.

Lately there is more of an effort by draft deal proponents to talk with other key players, including a meeting in Tucson May 23, and in Phoenix tomorrow. Broad support depends on current conversations and negotiations, but disagreements are arising.

One positive is that the current draft protects the open bidding on grazing leases, and stays away from bad land exchanges. Both of these poison pills were included in earlier drafts.

The Governor is important here, and has indicated she wants to support a State Lands package this year. What she'll settle for will likely have significant influence on the details of the proposed initiative. Proponents want to get a campaign rolling by July 1, so June should be hot for State Lands dealing.

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