What’s in a Bird (and People) Budget for Arizona?

Audubon’s funding priorities for the 2023 legislative session.

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**This blog was updated on May 15, 2023 to reflect what was included in the $17.8 billion bipartisan budget enacted by the Legislature and signed by the Governor on May 11, 2023. Thanks to your advocacy and interest, many of Audubon’s priorities were included in the final state budget.**

Priorities and funding levels Audubon advocated for, and the funding amounts included in the final state budget:

  • $30 million for the on-farm irrigation efficiency fund. The fund was established in the 2022 legislative session and now needs money to deliver grants to famers and irrigation districts to reduce water use. The fund is administered by the University of Arizona and recipients of any funding must report on water use as well as demonstrate quantifiable water savings. We know that we must all use less water, and this is one way Arizona can help agriculture continue to thrive in our state, with data and the best science helping inform how it can use less.
    • Funded at $15.2 million for fiscal year FY 2023-2024
  • $10 million for the State Parks Heritage Fund. Reinstating the monies swept by the legislature during the Great Recession for lottery money to fund our State Parks is crucial for protecting numerous sites and landscapes across the state.
    • Funded at $6 million for FY 2023-2024
  • $10 million for the establishment of a new state park at the headwaters of the Verde River. Called Del Rio Springs, the area would provide controlled public access and recreational opportunities to the Verde River near Paulden and Chino Valley.
    • Funded at $7 million for FY 2023-2024
  • $9.06 million to supplement the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) Water Quality Fee Fund. In 2021, the Office of Auditor General found that ADEQ was not performing many required tasks in monitoring groundwater for pollution. To protect water quality—of groundwater and surface water that ends up as drinking water—and public health throughout state, ADEQ ultimately needs additional resources to perform its required duties to monitor and improve Arizona’s water quality.
    • Funded at $9.5 million for FY 2023-2024
  • $3 million to conduct in-depth groundwater modeling in locations identified as having acute supply and demand imbalances. Better data leads to better management decisions, and the legislature has already directed ADWR to assess the available supply and projected demand for water in all 51 groundwater basins in the state over the next five years. Where there is found to be an acute problem, communities should have the resources to further investigate by conducting in-depth groundwater flow modeling to provide better information on what is occurring in a specific groundwater basin.
    • "Statewide Water Resources Planning” for the Arizona Department of Water Resources was funded at $5 million for FY 2023-2024. While we do not yet know what that will entail, Audubon will advocate for more information, such as groundwater models and groundwater data, that can help rural communities plan and advocate for the groundwater management solutions they need.
  • $250,000 to the Arizona Trail Fund for trail maintenance, planning, and preservation. The Arizona Trail runs 800 miles north from the border with Utah, south to the border with Mexico and is open to non-motorized uses such as hiking, biking, backpacking, and horseback riding. We should invest in this iconic Arizona treasure, which, according to the Arizona Trail Association, “links deserts, mountains, canyons, forests, history, communities, and people.”
    • Funded at $500,000 for FY 2023-2024

Something else to note on the water funding in this year’s negotiated state budget: the anticipated $333 million (a second installment to the Long Term Water Augmentation Fund for the newly-boosted Water Infrastructure Finance Authority [WIFA] of Arizona) was reduced to $189 million as money was siphoned to financially support water projects for the Ak-Chin Indian Community, Gilbert, Peoria, Glendale, Winslow, Mohave County, and elsewhere. Funding near-term, high-need, and more immediate water projects might signal a shift in priority from legislators and the Governor; versus funding far-off, long-term, and more-difficult-to-implement water importation projects.

Additionally, it is important to note that the legislature and executive were working with minimal availability of on-going funds for the FY 23-24 budget. Therefore, many of the projects and investments funded were one-time in nature. The investments highlighted above were made with one-time dollars.


From original blog posted April 10, 2023:

In Arizona, we have a Republican-controlled Legislature with narrow one-vote majorities in both the Senate and the House and a Democratic Governor. While divided government has its inherent challenges, it can also lead to interesting cooperation when it comes to land and water-related budget matters.

In Arizona, we are entering the (potentially long) stretch of the legislative session after most bills have been whittled down and attention starts to turn to developing a state budget. Note: The Local Groundwater Stewardship Areas bill (SB 1306/ HB 2731)—which allows communities to opt-in and choose from a menu of options to manage their local groundwater resources—was not given a chance to be vetted in the House or Senate Committees on Natural Resources, Energy, and Water. This means that neither bill has progressed (thus far) in the legislative process. Audubon and our partners continue to advocate for rural groundwater management, and we will keep working with local communities and local leaders demanding action on this critical issue for our state.

In the meantime, we turn to the budget process for progress on achieving our policy goals. The Arizona Legislature does not end its annual session until it passes a budget for the next fiscal year—which starts July 1. Of late, we have seen legislative sessions stretch longer and longer into June as one-seat Republican majorities in both legislative chambers have effectively given Republican legislators the ability to veto items in the budget that they do (or don’t) like.  However, an unintended result of such de facto veto authority is that the responsibilities of governing have also paved the way for a bipartisan budget, as Republican leadership must reach out to Democratic lawmakers in order to form a budget coalition, as evidenced by last year’s budget, which was the first genuine bipartisan budget in nearly 12 years.

Meaning: For the current budget process, lawmakers will need each other on both sides of the aisle to enact a state budget by the beginning of the fiscal year on July 1that is also agreeable to Governor Hobbs (D). And that’s where the optimism comes in, and why Audubon is hard at work talking with both Republicans and Democrats on what we think should be included in the state’s next budget to protect our lands and waters—for people and birds.

The Arizona state budget is a place where meaningful progress can be made to steward and protect Arizona’s lands and waters. For instance, ADWR was gutted in the Great Recession of 2008, and is slowly being built back up. Thanks to your help and advocacy over the last few years, the legislature has restored funding to this crucial state agency and employees have seen market-based salary adjustments to increase retention and attract talent.