Pumping millions into Texas parks soon up to voters

By September 17, 2019 September 26th, 2019 News

September 17, 2019
The Galveston County Daily News| By Keri Heath

Millions of dollars long siphoned for other projects could be invested in maintaining and improving Galveston Island State Park and others in Texas if voters approve a measure in November.

Sales tax on sporting goods sold in the Texas always has been intended for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, but all of the money hasn’t historically gone toward the park system.

Established in 1993, the tax applies to sporting goods sold within the state, and in 2018, generated an estimated $148.1 million, said Kevin Lyons, spokesman for the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts.

But only $128.6 million went to Texas Parks & Wildlife last year, the state agency that oversees state parks, wildlife and habitat, Lyons said.

The amount of money collected on the tax is growing each year, and by 2022, when the proposed law would go into effect, could reach $175.3 million, Lyons said.

Although the tax money originally was meant to go to Texas Parks & Wildlife, the actual amount the department gets is determined each year by the Texas Legislature.

The decision to put it to voters has bipartisan support, said state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, who was one of the legislators who sponsored the resolution that created the proposition.

Texas voters will decide Nov. 5 on whether to pass the amendment.

“We can all agree that these special places are vital to our economy and to our heritage, culture and way of life,” Kolkhorst said. “This legislation passed with bipartisan support because it is about delivering more maintenance and improvements to these sites, which in turn adds capacity for more visitors.”

The sporting good tax makes up about 28 percent, $117.3 million, of the overall Texas Parks & Wildlife’s $419 million budget and 75 percent, $314.3 million, of the state parks division’s salary and operating budget, department spokeswoman Stephanie Garcia said.

As it stands, the sporting good sales tax supports administration, operations and capital improvements of state parks and grants for local cities and counties, Garcia said.

For Galveston, that means possibly more resources toward Galveston Island State Park, 14901 FM 3005, said Jennifer Swanson, spokeswoman for the Texas Coalition for State Parks.

“That will mean that 100 percent of the money that’s supposed to go to the parks will be going to the parks, which means future upkeep for future generations to enjoy,” Swanson said.

Better upkeep of the park means the area likely is to draw more visitors, she said.

In fiscal year 2018, the park attracted almost 96,000 day-trippers and almost 50,000 overnight visitors, according to a state department report released earlier this year.

Visitors who aren’t from Galveston and stayed for the day contributed $122 million to the local economy through shopping and other purchases, and people who stayed in the park overnight generated $27.6 million, according to the report.

Galveston Island State Park now is at the beginning of a lengthy $10 million redevelopment project that has the beach side of the park closed for three years.

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Source: https://www.galvnews.com/news/article_ae53d0d7-d987-508d-b73a-5e86060796d7.html

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