June 25, 2004
Arizona’s top legislative leaders had new hope late Thursday that state voters will consider a reform package for state trust lands in November.
Key lawmakers said they had made real progress after emerging from two days of closed-door negotiations with a coalition of reform proponents. If more meetings today resolve the remaining issues, lawmakers are expected to ask Gov. Janet Napolitano to call a special session for Monday or Tuesday.
"We are trying to work through things," said Rep. John Loredo, the House Democratic floor leader from Phoenix. "There is a commitment from both sides to do that."
Lawmakers have less than a week to approve any package that would include a public vote to comply with deadlines for the Nov. 2 general election. Napolitano has told lawmakers she wants proof that supporters have enough legislative votes for the proposal before she will call them into session.
A coalition that includes education associations, developers, ranchers and some conservation groups has been lobbying the Legislature to approve a reform package crafted after three years of talks.
In general, the package would set aside up to 675,000 acres for open-space conservation while restoring a preference for ranchers to receive lease rights to grazing property. The proposal also would expand funding for the State Land Department so that agency can better package other state lands for auction.
The land department and developers have argued the state would bring more land to market and avoid sprawl. Education lobbyists said the package would bring higher prices from land sales and generate more funding for public schools.
But the complex proposal includes a series of changes to state and federal law, and critics raised a number of questions during three weeks of special hearings.
A public hearing on the issue has been scheduled for 10 a.m. today in House Hearing Room 4, 1700 W. Washington St., Phoenix.