As children, we learned the basic rules of respect: respect your parents, respect your teachers, and respect the dead. But someone needs to remind Arizona Republicans about that last one. GOP legislators recently pilfered a nearly $250,000 gift left by an elderly woman - now deceased - for the Arizona State Parks system.
The severity of budget cuts in Arizona is quite disturbing, but the cuts to State Parks have touched an especially raw nerve. In 2003, 82-year-old Asta Forrest left nearly $250,000 to the Arizona State Parks Board. This Danish immigrant's gift to Arizona was inspired by her love of its beautiful natural surroundings.
Fast forward to Arizona's current budget crisis. Instead of pursuing fair, common-sense solutions, Republicans started sweeping money from funds that weren't really theirs to touch. And last month, they swept up most of Asta Forrest's generous, heartfelt donation to Arizona's State Parks.
Throughout 2009, Arizona's majority-party Republicans cut our state government into oblivion, slicing away at public schools and critical services for vulnerable residents. To address our budget deficit, they took the logic-defying steps of cutting revenue-generating areas such as tax collection and State Parks. And no, you weren't dreaming if you saw a Daily Show segment about Arizona's Capitol buildings being put up for sale.
Is this the kind of state Arizona has become? Instead of closing massive tax loopholes for big corporations and special interests, elected leaders are stealing donations from Arizonans who only wanted to give back to the state they cherished. After July of this year, the Republicans' actions could leave Arizona as the only state in the nation without a State Parks system. Maybe the Republicans don't care about this - after all, you don't have to be rich or get a tax write-off to enjoy a State Park. And although these sites draw visitors from around they world, they are most cherished by our own residents. Parks such as Kartchner Caverns, Red Rock or Tonto Natural Bridge are important parts of our state heritage, and they draw a steady stream of hikers, picnickers and schoolkids on field trips.
I grew up in the state of Barry Goldwater and Mo Udall. The Arizona I love is a state that respects people's choices and freedoms. A state where common sense and hard work are more important than politics and money. A state where everyday Arizona is more important than corporate Arizona.
Unfortunately, we have a Republican majority that has been in charge of the Legislature for more than 40 years. And these Republicans have forgotten their roots. We see it with every vote in the Legislature, and it's only getting worse. I want my Arizona back. And I'm going to be fighting for it every day in 2010. Just consider it my own small gift back to Asta Forrest.