October 15, 2019
Austin American-Statesman | By American-Statesman Editorial Board
Over the past quarter-century, Texas lawmakers have siphoned away nearly $1.5 billion that should have gone to state parks and historical sites, and instead used those dollars to plug holes in the state budget.
Proposition 5 on the Nov. 5 ballot would put an end to that sneaky and short-sighted practice. We urge voters to support Prop 5, which would ensure state parks and historical sites receive all of the sales tax revenue generated by the sale of sporting goods, such as bicycles, fishing gear and golf equipment.
In theory, that revenue has been dedicated to state parks and historical sites since 1993, but lawmakers often dipped into that pot for other budget priorities. Between 1993 and 2017, only 47% of the nearly $2.8 billion collected by the tax was appropriated to state parks.
We’re seeing the cost of those decisions: About 300 park restrooms are so dilapidated they need to be removed or replaced. About 220 camping areas in state parks are in serious disrepair, with flood-ravaged terrain, broken picnic tables or unusable fire pits. Texas parks face a staggering $800 million in overdue maintenance projects.
These conditions rob Texans and tourists alike of the opportunity to enjoy our state’s natural treasures — at a time when a record 10 million visitors a year are showing up at state parks.
Guaranteeing a reliable source of revenue — an estimated $175 million in 2022 — would enable park operators to plan for those maintenance projects. And studies show the economic benefits accrue to the community: Park upgrades draw more visitors, who spend money at nearby restaurants, gas stations and other businesses.
This year, as legislators overwhelmingly supported putting Prop 5 before voters, they decided to put all of the sporting goods sales tax toward parks and historic sites in the 2020-21 budget. It was a worthy down payment on the investment Texas parks and their visitors deserve. Voters should make that commitment permanent by supporting Proposition 5.