October 11, 2019
Laredo Morning News | By Ed Whitacre, for the Express-News
In 1992, when we decided to relocate the corporate headquarters of AT&T to Texas, we did so for a number of reasons: the Texas business climate and the growth of economic opportunity; the work ethic of the Texas workforce; and the quality of life in Texas. State and local parks were an important part of our consideration.
State and local parks are essential to providing outdoor experiences to an increasingly urban state. They help preserve our Texas heritage, culture and way of life. And importantly, they are critical to our economy.
Nearly 10 million people visit state parks each year. According to a 2018 Economic Impact report, the parks generated nearly $900 million in sales, had a $240 million impact on the incomes of Texas residents and supported an estimated 6,081 jobs.
For local economies, state parks can be a tremendous economic booster. Parks are analogous to retail stores in the sense that people visit them for the attractions. The higher the quality and the more attractions inside the park, the greater the number of visits and the longer people stay — spending money in stores, hotels and restaurants along the way.
State parks help preserve our natural environment and instill in Texans a love and appreciation of the great outdoors. Generations of Texans have worked and enjoyed the land, and if we are to continue our culture, our way of life and our traditions, we need the next generation of Texans to have a deep appreciation for our roots. Appreciating our natural environment is critical in that.
Texas has 27 million people who increasingly gravitate to our parks seeking a respite from the city and a way to connect with the outdoors. The parks are overflowing and stretched to the limit as Texans seek out outdoor opportunities in a state that is 95 percent privately owned with limited public access.
Texas is a big state. We have many parks. But hurricanes and natural disasters have taken their toll, and our park system is aging and infrastructure is outdated. Chronic underfunding has placed a strain on our system. You cannot maintain an effective park system without the ability to fund long-term capital improvements.
The good news is, on Nov. 5, Texans can go to the polls and help directly address this challenge. Because of the leadership of the Texas Legislature in 2019, a constitutional amendment will be presented as Proposition 5 on the ballot in this upcoming election.
Proposition 5 will constitutionally dedicate funds from an existing sales tax on sporting goods and apply that revenue to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department and the Texas Historical Commission. This is not a new tax. It is truth in taxation, ensuring that money set aside for the purpose of protecting our parks and historical sites is used as intended.
If we are to meet the growing demand and ensure future generations can enjoy the outdoors, our parks and historical sites need a dedicated stream of funding. They are good for business, good for the economy and good for Texas. A constitutional dedication will preserve our parks and historical sites for future generations. Let’s get it right for our state, our visitors and our hardworking Texans.
Ed Whitacre is the former chairman and CEO of General Motors. He is also a former chairman of the board and CEO of AT&T Inc.