October 16, 2019
San Antonio Express-News | By Scott Huddleston
State parks and historic sites that are suffering from neglect, deferred maintenance and overuse — including a natural area near San Antonio that regularly draws a long line of cars — would benefit if Proposition 5 on the Nov. 5 ballot wins voter approval.
“We’re reached a point of crisis here with collapsing infrastructure, parks being closed, being loved to death,” said David Yeates, CEO of the Texas Wildlife Association, representing about 9,000 wildlife stewards, property owners and hunters.
Yeates and other parks advocates ended a 7-city, 13-stop tour Wednesday at Mission Concepción with a news conference to discuss the need for a dedicated stream of funding for state, county and city parks. State parks are hurting from more than $750 million in deferred maintenance and needed improvements.
Early voting begins Monday and continues through Nov. 1 at more than 30 locations around the city and county.
Proposition 5 would amend the Texas Constitution to ensure that all sales taxes on sporting goods would go to fund parks and historic sites. The Legislature voted to do that in 1993 but since then, only about 40 percent of those revenues have been appropriated to those areas. The rest — several billion dollars — has gone into the state’s general fund to meet other needs.
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“Having a dedicated, reliable predictable stream of revenue is a difference maker,” Yeates said. “Our state parks system represents the best point of entry for Texans to have safe, easy, convenient, low-cost access to the great outdoors.”
The Texas Conservation Alliance estimates the proposition would generate $183 million in 2021, the first year it would take effect. Yeates said 94 percent of that money would benefit state parks or municipal or county parks awarded grants by the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department. The other 6 percent would support state historic sites run by the Texas Historical Commission.
One park near San Antonio that has not kept up with the state’s rapid growth and urbanization is Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, which doesn’t have adequate access and parking for the large crowds wanting to go rock-climbing or hike the massive granite dome near Fredericksburg, Yeates said.
“Virtually every weekend, they have to close, at a point where it’s one (car) in, one out,” he added. “That’s a public safety issue. That’s an infrastructure capacity issue.”
Monahans Sandhills State Park near Odessa has beautiful white sand dunes but is another example of a park that has declined from lack of allocated funds, said Anna Farrell-Sherman, clean water associate with Environment Texas.
“Their bathrooms are sliding down a sand hill and have been closed for the past two years because they don’t have the funds to repair those restrooms,” she said. “That’s not the sort of thing that we can have in a state park system that is vibrant and working for everybody.”
Joseph Fitzsimons, a former Parks & Wildlife commissioner and co-founder of the Texas Coalition for State Parks, composed of 70 advocacy groups, said he has worked for 20 years to secure a constitutional amendment to fix the problem. His biggest concern is voter apathy.
“The good news is the money’s there. People are spending money on sporting goods,” Fitzsimons said. “When you buy a kayak, you ought to have the expectation that the tax will be used to give you a place to put it in the water. And that’s exactly what this is all about. There’s a logical nexus between the tax and the public service.”
Since 1995, 14 Parks & Wildlife grants totaling nearly $7.3 million supported by the sporting goods sales tax have been awarded to the city of San Antonio for 11 parks, from a $112,600 allocation for Friedrich Wilderness Park in 2011 to a $1 million grant awarded this year for Pearsall Park on the Southwest Side, according to Environment Texas.
Annalisa Peace, executive director of the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance, said only 36 percent of San Antonians live within a 10-minute walk of a park. She said the statewide measure could help the city develop more parks that contribute to fit lifestyles and clean urban ecosystems.
“Passage of Prop 5 will go a long way to making sure our Texas parks continue to provide all the services that we expect from them, while requiring no new taxes.”
Although there is no organized opposition to the measure, Yeates said some people are wary of dedicated tax revenue that does not feed the general fund. To address that, the Legislature passed a bill that allows for a two-thirds vote of both chambers to reduce the funding from 100 percent to 50 percent “for one biennium at a time.”
“So there is a pressure valve, and even that reduction to 50 percent would be above what it’s been, really since the inception of this funding,” Yeates said.
Scott Huddleston covers Bexar County government and the Alamo for the San Antonio Express-News. Read him on our free site, mySA.com, and on our subscriber site, ExpressNews.com. | [email protected] | Twitter: @shuddlestonSA