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After successfully bringing back the State Lake Improvement Fund grant program on a temporary basis during the 2021 legislative session, Rep. Leo Biasiucci (R-Lake Havasu City) is hoping to finish the job of reviving the grants meant for waterway safety and waterfront improvements permanently.

SLIF is funded by a portion of the motor vehicle fuel taxes estimated to come from fuel sales for boats, along with a portion of the watercraft license tax and in recent years has generated between $8 million and $9 million annually. State statute currently allows SLIF to be used by State Parks and Trails to administer the fund along with other administrative tasks, or to pay for projects on bodies of water where gas-powered boats are permitted. Possible projects include public launch ramps, piers, marinas, bathrooms, picnic tables, waterfront construction or improvements, campgrounds, and safety equipment and facilities.

Historically grants were provided to waterfront communities for a variety of qualifying projects and public safety purchases. But those grants dried up back in 2008 when the entire fund was swept into the state’s general fund by the legislature as the state scrambled to find any money that it could during the economic downturn at the time. About two years later, State Parks lost access to about $10 million from the Heritage Fund that had been used to pay for parks administrative and operating costs. Parks officials have said that forced the parks to begin relying on SLIF to pay for its administrative costs, and the SLIF grants did not return for more than a decade.

That changed last year when Biasiucci managed to include $2 million per year in the budget, both this year and in Fiscal Year 2022-23, from the state general fund to be distributed as SLIF grants.

In 2022 Biasiucci is hoping to bring back the grants permanently.

Biasiucci introduced HB2038 on Jan. 5, which would revise state statute so that no more than 10% of money generated by SLIF can be used by State Parks to administer the fund and it eliminates language allowing state parks to use the money to pay for its administration. That would free up the remaining 90% of SLIF to be used for various water related projects as originally intended – and ensure the permanent return of SLIF grants for waterfront communities.

The bill also would give State Parks the ability to pay for its administration with the State Parks Revenue Fund. Biasiucci said the idea is the State Parks administrative staff would be paid for through the general fund as part of the annual budgeting process.

“That is how they should be funded,” he said. “It shouldn’t be swept from other buckets that are intended for other things. SLIF is intended to be used on waterfronts for parks, law enforcement, and other improvements. It shouldn’t be swept. Especially now, when we have surpluses in our budget.”

Biasiucci’s bill this year is nearly identical to the bill that he introduced last year, minus the request for extra funding from the general fund in the 2021 bill. Last year the proposal received broad bipartisan support in the House of Representatives where it was passed on a 51-8 vote. The bill was killed in the Senate without making it to the floor for a vote. But the $4 million from the general fund requested for SLIF this year and next year was included during the budgeting process in 2021.

Biasiucci said bringing the grants back temporarily was a good start, but the main goal has yet to be achieved.

“The goal was to stop the sweeps,” he said. “Unfortunately that part was not agreed upon when we were in negotiations with the Governor’s Office. But at least we got the money, and it is proving to be beneficial. So this bill is just trying to stop the sweeps so we get this funded continually and we don’t have to come back every year to get funding approved for the SLIF grants.”

Lake Havasu City Manager Jess Knudson said the city supports Biasiucci’s bill.

“We are appreciative of Rep. Leo Biasiucci’s efforts,” he said. “He provided us with two years of the opportunity for SLIF grants. His efforts with HB2038 would provide a long term opportunity for the grants to be available for the protection of our waters, waterways, and improvements along the shoreline… What a great nexus to have in terms of the taxes from those who recreate on the water are then used to protect those who recreate on the water.”

Biasiucci said he is hopeful that the bill will be passed this year, but said he also has a backup plan in case HB2038 stalls again this year. He said if that happens, he will try to include two more years of providing $2 million per year for SLIF grants through the general fund, which would secure continued SLIF grants through FY2024-25.

Biasiucci’s bill received its first reading in the House on Wednesday, and was assigned to the appropriations committee, which is chaired by fellow District 5 Rep. Regina Cobb (R-Kingman).

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