May 1, 2019
Austin American-Statesman | By Renzo Downey and
The Lost Pines State Park Complex, composed of Bastrop State Park and Buescher State Park, is in need of $30 million of repairs and renovations, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department estimates.
Those repairs, along with $781 million in deferred maintenance needs across the entire state park system, is the motivation behind a bill proposing an amendment to the state constitution that would dedicate nearly all revenue collected through the sporting goods sales tax to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
Last week, HB 1214 — authored by Rep. John Cyrier, R-Lockhart, who represents Bastrop County — received near-unanimous support from the House, which passed the measure with 149 votes to 1. The Senate unanimously approved its companion bill in April, carried by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham. If signed by the governor, the bill would require final approval by voters in November.
“For too long, the Texas Legislature has charged the hardworking leaders and personnel of our state parks system with a very important job but not given them the resources they need to accomplish it,” Cyrier said in a statement. “This amendment will change that and provide the stable funding system necessary to preserve these natural treasures for the enjoyment of future generations.”
Some of the biggest ticket items in need of repairs at Bastrop State park include replacing a dam that was breached during the 2015 Memorial Day flood, estimated to cost $1 million; repairing roadways damaged by floods; renovating 14 historic, 1940s era cabins; reviving the golf course that was shuttered in 2015; and other building maintenance and renovations. Over the years, the costs for the needed repairs and renovations at Bastrop State Park have climbed to an estimated $21 million, the parks department said.
Buescher State Park requires an estimated $6 million repair to its dam spillway, which was damaged during Hurricane Harvey, as well as $2.5 million in repairs and upgrades to the park’s water system and campsite utilities, renovation of a playground, and replacement a building’s leaking roof.
“The state park system that exists today was not built with the anticipation that 10 million visitors per year would utilize the parks,” Cyrier said. “We have an obligation to ensure that future generations have access to these important outdoor spaces. The 86th Texas Legislature has an historic opportunity to make a lasting impact on our parks, creating stability for future planning and growth that will benefit all Texans.”
If voters approve the constitutional amendment, it would dedicate 93.4% of sporting goods sales tax revenue to the Parks and Wildlife Department and 6.6% to the Historical Commission, primarily for park maintenance. The funds would begin flowing to the two agencies beginning in 2021.
In 2015, the Legislature passed a statute led by Kolkhorst and Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, that would have allocated the funds to the agencies, but after opposition from lead appropriators, and despite apparent unanimous support, a Senate measure rendered that attempt ineffective.
“You’ve seen it over the last few sessions since I’ve been here,” Cyrier said. “There’s plenty of other dedicated revenues that have been diverted, so I think it’s just one of those.”
Cyrier said he felt momentum for the bill this session as every state representative, other than Speaker Dennis Bonnen, signed on to the House version beforehand and a coalition of 80 organizations and associations were supporting it. However, the 2015 effort, which began as a constitutional amendment and was changed to a statute, appeared to have similar support.
By making the measure a constitutional amendment, the Legislature cannot alter it without a two-thirds vote in both houses and public approval. The difference this time was discussing the measure with the House Speaker in December and with the appropriations committee early in the session, Cyrier said.
“I think that was the whole key on that,” he said. “Once people understood it, everybody agreed with it.”
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick prioritized the effort in the Senate, which passed the measure earlier this month.
“Our parks and historical sites are a key component of Texas’ heritage and must be preserved for future generations, and I commend the Senate for re-affirming this commitment,” Patrick said in a written statement following the Senate vote.