October 20, 2019
Amarillo Globe News | By AGN Media Editorial Board
For the first time in a long time, those who enjoy the incredible beauty of Texas state parks have an opportunity to secure and stabilize funding for these precious jewels during the constitutional amendment election.
While there are 10 proposed amendments on the ballot, outdoor enthusiasts will want to pay particular attention to Proposition 5. It would change the Texas Constitution so that revenue generated from the sales tax on sporting goods is designated solely for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and Texas Historical Commission.
Early voting begins Monday (Oct. 21) and continues through Nov. 1. Election Day is Nov. 5. We encourage everyone to educate themselves about the amendments and exercise their right to vote. Turnout is typically sluggish for constitutional amendment elections. In the most recent of these, Texans in 2017 approved all seven proposed amendments.
Two of Texas’ most majestic state parks – Palo Duro Canyon and Caprock Canyons – would be among the beneficiaries of the amendment. The multipurpose parks receive substantial use year-round and provide uniquely inspiring destinations for anyone who enjoys the outdoors.
These parks also are important economic engines that attract substantial tourism dollars. Most visitors to parks don’t simply pay an entry fee. They also eat in local restaurants, stay at local hotels and motels, purchase gasoline and shop locally.
According to the Texas Coalition of State Parks, Texas’ parks have a $900 million economic impact – beyond the recreational aspect.
“When people come to a park in West Texas, they’re not just paying an entrance fee, they’re going to be buying gas … and they’re going to pay to stay in hotels to attend the park,” Jennifer Sarver, a spokesperson for the organization, told the Texas Tribune. “If a park has to close, it’s the equivalent of a manufacturing plant. It’s economically devastating.”
Statewide, Texas Parks and Wildlife officials estimate the parks have nearly $800 million in deferred maintenance. They said increased use and $50 million in damage from Hurricane Harvey are the primary reasons. As any homeowner knows, ignoring little maintenance issues often leads to larger, costlier expense. For too long, parks across the state have had to delay addressing numerous projects, largely as a result of consistent underfunding.
That said, each park has its own needs and must have a dependable revenue stream that will not only allow updates and new projects to take place, but also enhance facilities so that they can also be enjoyed by generations to come.
By way of perspective, the state legislature in 1993 passed a law that allowed all revenue from the sporting goods sales tax to be used for maintenance, upkeep and expansion of the state’s parks and historical sites. While the previous two sessions have resulted in sizable budget appropriations for parks, those were atypical.
State Rep. John P. Cyrier (R-Lockhart) was among the earliest advocates for change, saying historically a lot of revenue that should have gone to the parks department instead was used to balance the state budget, according to the Tribune.
In fact, the average allocation averaged $34 million from average revenue of $95 million prior to the 2017 session, according to the Tribune, citing the Texas Coalition for State Parks, which has been active in pushing for the amendment. Typically, the parks have received about 40 percent of the sporting goods tax revenue.
Most importantly, though, Proposition 5 will ensure a promise made more than 25 years ago is kept. “It’s just as much about truth in taxation as it is about protecting parks,” Luke Metzger, executive director of the nonprofit Environment Texas, told the Tribune. “Every state legislator will say they support the parks. But when there’s an economic downturn, parks are one of the first things to get cut.”
State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) joined Cyrier in supporting the amendment, saying the state’s parks must be a priority. “Supporting our state parks and historic sites is an investment in our future and provides a gateway to the outdoors for every Texan,” she said in the the Tribune story.
The beauty of Texas, whatever one’s pleasure might be, can be found in the state’s parks and historical sites. The legislature had the foresight long ago to put in place a funding mechanism to ensure these beautiful attractions were preserved and protected for Texans to enjoy today and long after tomorrow.
Proposition 5, if approved, will not have an immediate impact as revenue generated from the tax will be appropriated in the 2021 session. However, approving this amendment will bring long-overdue stability and certainty to the financial future of the state’s parks, and we urge the public to vote “for” and approve Proposition 5.