November 1, 2019
The Houston Chronicle | By Ann Lents, Phoebe Tudor and Steven B. Jenkins
Whether you visit green spaces for daily exercise, are taking a young family on a daytrip, or are a retiree taking that tour of Texas you always dreamed of, our local parks, state parks, and historical sites are an affordable way for Houstonians to enjoy the great outdoors together.
This Election Day, voters here in Houston and across Texas have a historic opportunity to protect these beautiful outdoor spaces and make them accessible for generations to come.
Our local parks, state parks and historical sites are among our treasured spaces, providing recreation for our families and preserving our heritage so that we can always remember what makes Texas unique and great.
However, if we’re being honest, most of these spaces are woefully underfunded.
From 1993 to 2017, the state collected nearly $2.5 billion in revenues from the Sporting Goods Sales Tax, which was originally meant to fund the parks. Unfortunately, however, most of that money was used to fill in gaps elsewhere in the state budget. Today there are more than 610 specific deferred maintenance-related priorities at our state parks, estimated to cost more than $800 million. New state park openings that were slated to happen this year have had to be delayed.
The good news is that the Texas Legislature this year passed bipartisan legislation that would amend the state constitution so that all of the Sporting Goods Sales Tax must be appropriated to our state parks and historical sites.
Closer to home, the state has a grants program available to all our local parks systems. Through this grant program, the city of Houston Parks and Recreation Department, Harris County Parks, Pearland, Pasadena and other city parks – virtually all park systems in Houston, Harris County and the state – will be eligible for funding to support their efforts to maintain the green space vital to our region. The grants program could bring significant funding to our area.
This is where we, the voters, come in. On Nov. 5, Texans head to the polls. Ten proposed constitutional amendments are on the ballot, and Proposition 5 is one they should support, especially for those of us here in the Houston area.
Proposition 5 will ensure that revenue from the Sporting Goods Sales Tax can only be used by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Texas Historical Commission on public parks and historic sites, and not for any other purposes.
Proposition 5 amendment will protect Texas’ natural areas and historic sites, so that we don’t lose the very things that make Texas such a special place to live — the things that we want our children and their children to have, so that they can make their own memories in these beautiful, protected spaces.
We should also note that, in addition to contributing to our health and well-being, parks are a key economic driver, creating growth and economic opportunity for Texans across the state. Nearly 10 million people (including an exploding population of city- and suburb- dwellers seeking some respite from the sprawling Houston area) visit our state parks each year, and these parks generate nearly $900 million in sales, impacting local economies, creating jobs, growing tax revenue, and attracting visitors from across the state and around the country.
Sustainable, consistent funding through Proposition 5 is the economically smart way to ensure our parks endure for years to come and benefit all Texans.
It’s up to us now. We urge you to vote YES on Proposition 5 on the ballot. Let’s invest long-term in our economy and in our Texas heritage and culture.
Jill Boullion, Executive Director, Bayou Land Conservancy
Sarah P. Bernhardt, Ph.D., President & Chief Executive Officer, Bayou Preservation Association
Anne Olson, President, Buffalo Bayou Partnership
Barry Mandel, President & Park Director, Discovery Green
Lucy Bremond, Executive Director, Emancipation Park Conservancy
Bob Stokes, President, Galveston Bay Foundation
Kelly Snook, Executive Director, Greens Bayou Coalition
Doreen Stoller, President, Hermann Park Conservancy
Debbie Markey, Executive Director, Houston Arboretum & Nature Center
Beth White, President and CEO, Houston Parks Board
Deborah January-Bevers, President & CEO, Houston Wilderness
Mary Anne Piacentini, President and CEO, Katy Prairie Conservancy
Shellye Arnold, President & CEO, Memorial Park Conservancy
Ann Lents is on the board of Houston Parks Board, Phoebe Tudor is on the board of Hermann Park Conservancy and Houston Parks Board, and Steven B. Jenkins is board chairman of Memorial Park Conservancy