October 18, 2019
Lubbock Avalanche-Journal | By Jonathan Tilove
On a picture-perfect Monday at McKinney Falls State Park early this month, the advocacy group Environment Texas launched a seven-city, 13-park tour to promote Proposition 5, a state constitutional amendment that would dedicate revenue from the sales tax on sporting goods to maintaining and improving Texas parks and historic sites stressed by the state’s explosive growth.
“What a beautiful morning we have here at McKinney Falls State Park,” said state Rep. John Cyrier, R-Lockhart, who led the effort in the House to put the proposition on the ballot. “We can all say that Mother Nature will be voting ‘yes’ for Prop Five on Nov. 5.”
Maybe not, but Prop 5 has very broad support and no obvious opposition. Even the lone member of the Legislature to vote against Cyrier’s bill to put the proposition on the ballot — state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford — was a co-signer of the House bill he voted against.
But Environment Texas and allied environment, wildlife, conservation and parks groups are taking no chances that voters won’t approve an amendment that would not increase taxes but would seek to make sure that money already derived from the tax on the sale of bicycles, hunting gear, exercise equipment, fishing tackle and other sporting goods all goes to maintain park and historic sites as had been intended by the Legislature when it created the tax on sporting goods in 1993.
While that legislation allowed up to 94% of the sporting goods sales tax to go to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department with the remaining 6% designated for the Texas Historical Commission, Cyrier said that from 1993 to 2017, the state collected nearly $2.5 billion in revenue from the tax, but only about 40% of that sum went to parks, with the rest used to fill holes elsewhere in the state budget. Cyrier said the 95 state parks had combined deferred maintenance of about $800 million even as record numbers of people are making use of them.
Nearly 10 million people visited Texas state sparks in fiscal year 2017.
“Texans love their parks, and like parks here in Austin, Texas, parks are loved to death,” Colin Wallis, CEO for the Austin parks Foundation, said at the McKinney Falls news conference.
Cyrier said that while the tax money would be directed to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, it would also be used for grants the department provides to city and county parks. Proposition 5 would require a two-thirds vote in each legislative chamber to reduce the amount for the parks and historical sites, but could not cut the amount by more than half.
“Proposition 5 says, once and for all, we’re going to guarantee funding for our park system, make sure that they have the funds they need to preserve beautiful areas like this, to make sure that we have the campgrounds and the trails available for people to experience nature, and that keep them. in a good place,”Luke Metzger, executive director of Environment Texas, said at McKinney Falls.
Early voting runs Oct. 21 to Nov. 1. Election Day is Nov. 5.