Backers of two competing trust land reform measures disagree about whether the possibility of greater rewards for the Arizona Land Department — and its trust fund for public schools — is worth incurring a certain degree of financial risk.
The engineers of House Concurrent Resolution 2045, a referendum backed by the Arizona Cattle Growers Association and the Home Builders Association of Central Arizona, said the competing initiative promotes “participation agreements” in which Land Department revenue would hinge partly on the success of development projects.
“We don’t think that’s a good risk for the Land Department to take,” Home Builders Association vice president of legal affairs Spencer Kamps said.
But supporters of the more radical Conserving Arizona’s Future initiative said the threat of risk is just a red herring offered up by HCR2045 proponents, who are primarily concerned with maintaining the status quo.
The initiative, supported by the Arizona Education Association, the Nature Conservancy and government and business leaders who attended a Morrison Institute for Public Policy research forum in Tempe on Thursday, is the only one that will guarantee the preservation of open space and free the Land Department from archaic restrictions, its backers said.
“We’re creating a series of tools that modernizes it, and participation agreements are one of those tools,” Nature Conservancy state director Patrick Graham said.
Graham said participation agreements, which allow the Land Department to partner with developers on planning efforts in exchange for a cut of their profits, would not be mandatory but could facilitate the development of large trust land areas such as Superstition Vistas, a 275-square-mile stretch of desert east of Mesa.
Conserving Arizona’s Future also would allow the Land Department to coordinate planning efforts with municipalities, expand the department’s budget without raising taxes and set aside 690,000 acres of open space for future generations, Graham said.
Attendees at Thursday’s meeting to introduce a Morrison Institute report on Superstition Vistas voiced support for the initiative, which will be on the November ballot if supporters can gather 184,000 signatures.
The opposition’s referendum passed in the House and is working its way through the Senate. It allows for up to 400,000 acres of open space but favors preservation in rural areas and only with additional legislative approval.