Palo Pinto County is the only one in the state of Texas that benefits economically from three state parks, so there is much interest locally in the fate of one of 10 propositions appearing on the Nov. 5 constitutional amendments ballot.
Meet Proposition 5, which seeks to make it much more difficult for lawmakers to divert funds generated by a sporting goods sales tax meant to be dedicated to develop, improve and maintain the state’s parks and historic sites. Texas has 95 state parks, visited by over 10 million people in 2017.
When Texas legislators a quarter of a century ago approved the new tax, replacing the state’s old cigarette tax, that is what they thought they were doing. But the legislation didn’t keep future lawmakers from using most of those dollars for other funding purposes. From 1993 to 2017, the state has collected nearly $2.5 billion in revenues from the Sporting Goods Sales Tax, yet just 40 percent of that has been spent on state and local parks, according to state officials.
Proposition 5 is a constitutional dedication of revenue from the existing sales tax, so those dollars can only be used by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Texas Historical Commission on public parks and historic sites, and not for any other purposes. It does not require any additional fees or taxes. The ballot proposition reads:
“The constitutional amendment dedicating the revenue received from the existing state sales and use taxes that are imposed on sporting goods to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Texas Historical Commission to protect Texas’ natural areas, water quality, and history by acquiring, managing, and improving state and local parks and historic sites while not increasing the rate of the state sales and use taxes.”
Jeff Hinkson, of the Strawn Chamber of Commerce, is working to make sure voters are aware of, and vote in support of, Proposition 5 because of the impacts state parks and resources have on local economies.
“It’s extremely important that you know about this,” Hinkson told those attending and watching last week’s Envision Mineral Wells program.
Based on a 2018 Economic Impact study, the state’s parks generated more than $891 million in sales, had a $240 million impact on income for Texas residents and supported an estimated 6,081 jobs throughout the state.
There is currently more than $800 million in deferred state parks maintenance, according to officials.
“It is time to fix this problem,” said State Rep. John Cyrier, R-Lockhart, who represents District 17. “Our parks are vital to our state’s economy, emergency response efforts, wildlife management, and recreational opportunities.”
“They are trying to dig themselves out of a hole,” Hinkson said of the parks maintenance backlog.
Essentially, passage of Proposition 5 would require a two-thirds vote in each legislative chamber to reduce the amount of dedicated sales tax revenues for parks, wildlife and historical agencies. The measure would prohibit the Legislature from decreasing those amounts by more than 50 percent.
In 1993, the Legislature passed House Bill 706, which authorized the state to dedicate revenue from the sales tax on sporting goods to the Parks and Wildlife Department (94%) and Historical Commission (6%). Sporting goods items are defined as “goods designed and sold for sport and sporting activities.” In 2018, the Comptroller of Public Accounts reported that two-thirds of the revenue was from the sale of bicycles and related supplies, hunting and firearm equipment, exercise equipment, and fishing tackle.
Hinkson and the Strawn chamber have a keen interest in the proposition since Palo Pinto Mountains State Park is under development. However, it has been a struggle in recent legislative sessions to receive the necessary funding. The Legislature this year did authorize $12.5 million for the park, situated around Tucker Lake in southwest Palo Pinto County. However, the park still needs private donations to open its gates to guests, Josh Havens, a Texas Parks & Wildlife Department spokesman, said earlier this year.
The park will need about $8 million to $10 million from private donations. The Texas Department of Transportation has $5.3 million set aside for January 2020 to build roads and a camping loop in the park, said Adam Hammons, a state transportation department spokesman.
Ralph Duggins, chairman of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, in an Associated Press article published by the Index. “We’ve got a big job through the Parks and Wildlife Foundation to raise that non-state money.”
The Texas Parks & Wildlife Foundation, which was founded in 1991 and raises private funds to help support the state park system, will seek donations for Palo Pinto Mountains State Park.
“I think it’s safe to say we’re confident we can raise it,” said Lydia Saldaña, a spokesman for the foundation. “This kind of public-private partnership — this is the way these transformational projects are going to happen in Texas.”
Portions of the park are open. The 90-acre Tucker Lake is open for fishing until park construction begins and does not require a fishing license.
Plans for the park include an extensive network of multi-use trails for hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders. Trails will lead to remote areas of the park with expansive vistas. Campsites will include RV sites, as well as walk-in tent sites and primitive camping areas. Picnic areas and playgrounds will provide gathering places for small and large groups.
Hinkson outlined some the economic impacts derived from not only the three state parks – Palo Pinto Mountains, Possum Kingdom and Lake Mineral Wells – but also other area Texas Parks and Wildlife-managed resources including the fish hatchery at PK Lake and the Fawcett Wildlife Management area in central Palo Pinto County.
Hinkson said there are currently 48 full-time parks employees combined at those TPWD facilities, which will grow to 63 once Palo Pinto Mountains State Park is fully operational and staffed. He said the average annual salaries of the current positions is $41,000, which amounts to $1.8 million in local parks salaries paid.
That does not include the impact non-local visitors to the parks have on local economies through the purchase of goods and food.
Early voting ahead of the Nov. 5 special election runs Oct. 21-Nov. 1. For more information about the election and voting, visit https://www.votetexas.gov.
For more information about Proposition 5, visit https://www.supporttexasparks.org.