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Don't be fooled by developers' Prop. 101

Photo
Illustration by Cody Angell
By Kendrick Wilson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday October 24, 2002

UA students will find an enormous amount of propositions on their ballots this year and, regrettably, many will be overlooked. Issues like Indian gaming, decriminalization of marijuana and a tobacco tax are receiving a great deal of well deserved publicity, but the issue of state trust lands, dealt with in Proposition 101, has been ignored by the press and may go unnoticed by most voters.

Nevertheless, Prop. 101 is not unimportant, and its implications should attract the attention of every environmentalist on campus and anyone who doesn't want developers plowing down every square inch of open space in our state.

It's hard for me to vote against any measure in Arizona that promises to help education. I truly believe education funding in Arizona is pathetic at best. Unfortunately, Prop. 101 would do very little to aid education in the long run, and opens the door to backroom deal-cutting with developers that stand to hurt the entire state.

Prop. 101 would allow state trust lands, which are currently sold to the highest bidder at public auction to raise money for education, to be exchanged for other lands, as well as being purchased outright. These types of "land swaps" could even involve complicated three-way exchanges. In the case of land swaps, no adequate public hearing process or sufficient public land appraisal is required. The result: Developers can swap land that cannot be developed due to lack of water, rough terrain, or simply being too far from an urban area for state trust lands that can be developed. When the state then tries to sell the land that cannot be developed, few buyers can be found, and the value of that land is actually very little.

The issue of the state potentially losing valuable land is hardly the tip of the iceberg. No significant requirement for land conservation is included. Our state trust land policy was developed nearly 90 years ago, before conservation was even in the vocabulary of Arizona leaders although one could easily argue that conservation and land use are not in the vocabularies of Jane Hull or Matt Salmon. While some were brought to support this proposition because it calls for some preservation of open space, it allows developers to preserve a couple of acres in exchange for developing thousands more.

The Sierra Club noted that in one case, the developer was required to set aside 600 acres for open space and was allowed to develop 4,000 acres of land that was previously off limits to development!

This is actually the fifth time our developer-driven Legislature has put this type of trust land "swaps" up for a vote. The voters have turned them down the past four times, realizing that benefiting career speculators (people who make their livings exclusively by buying and selling land with the intent to develop it) is not in the best interest of our state. This year, the Legislature has used the guise of helping education in hopes that the voters won't recognize the reemergence of the same underhanded proposal that the people have turned down so many times.

Sadly, the education community, disillusioned with the state of Arizona, is willing to support any measure that seems like it stands any chance of helping to rebuild our crumbling schools. Unfortunately, allowing untrustworthy land speculators to engage in backroom "land swaps" with state trust lands will do little to help education. State trust lands are not bringing in the highest potential revenues, but the same land speculators who are pushing Prop. 101 are precisely the reason why. These speculators are suspected of arranging agreements not to out-bid one another at public auctions for trust lands, thus driving the prices down.

Education in our state needs help, and it pains me to advocate voting against a measure supported by the state teachers' union. But no matter how hard we try to believe that schemes like Prop. 101 will work to save education in our state, we still won't be able to get something out of nothing. Prop. 101 gives us nothing. If education is to be helped, more money from the state's general fund is necessary.

This cannot be accomplished without closing tax loopholes, such as those that provide incentives for hotels to buy shampoo and exemptions for massages, dating services and telemarketers. The next governor must take a firm stance in opposition to general tax cuts, or education will suffer further.

Don't let the developers pull the wool over your eyes! This underhanded proposal will not help education and will allow developers to maraud every square inch of undeveloped land in our state. Vote NO on Proposition 101!

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