A ballot proposition that would have swept nearly $125 million from statewide conservation efforts into the Arizona general fund has been defeated, resoundingly.

“The voters sent a clear message to the legislature to keep their mitts off conservation lands,” said Sandy Bahr, director of the Grand Canyon chapter of the Sierra Club.

Bahr and other conservationists had opposed the measure, Proposition 301, on the Nov. 2 ballot. The Arizona Legislature forwarded the proposition to voters in an effort to access the balance in the conservation land fund.

The proposition would have swept a voter-approved fund to help local governments purchase State Trust Lands for conservation.

Bahr said the initiative’s failure, by 74 percent of the vote, indicates that voters support land protection measures.

“Even in tough economic times, people think it’s important,” Bahr said. “We hope the legislature gets the message.”

The Land Conservation Fund was part of the Growing Smarter Act. It gained voter approval in 1998 under the name Proposition 303.

The main provision of the law was to establish an annual contribution of $20 million from the state’s general fund. Those annual payments are scheduled to expire at the end of the current fiscal year.

Supporters of last week’s initiative had said the measure was needed to help balance the state’s troubled budget.

Legislators in fact wrote the budget assuming the measure and a similar proposition would pass. With the failure, lawmakers again find themselves presiding over a budget with considerable shortfalls.

Between the defeat of Prop 301 and Prop 302 — which would have swept $325 million from the early childhood development program First Things First — the state faces an additional $450 million budget hole.

Bahr believes the money the state would have pulled from the conservation fund would not have made much of an impact on the budget.

“One of the points we made is that this really isn’t a lot of money when it comes to the state budget and the gap in the state budget,” Bahr said.

Proposition 301

Yes 25.88 percent 380,614 votes

No 74.12 percent 1,089,849 votes

Source: Secretary of State’s office

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