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Money for Texas’ Ailing Parks System Is Up to Voters

Lighthouse Peak

October 31, 2019
Courthouse News Service | By Travis Bubenik

Most summers in far west Texas, the small farming community of Balmorhea transforms into a tourist hot spot as travelers flock across the sprawling Chihuahuan Desert to one of the state’s most beloved spring-fed swimming holes. But in 2018, the summer season was canceled.

That was the year erosion damage was discovered inside the pool at Balmorhea State Park, forcing a months-long closure that frustrated visitors and locals alike. Though the pool reopened in time for summer this year, the entire park soon closed again so its outdated septic system could be fixed.

The open-and-closed-again saga in Balmorhea has become something of a case study in what happens when parks are left with inadequate funding and problems pile up.

Outdoors advocates say it’s a situation that could be avoided in the future, if Texas voters on Tuesday approve a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would ensure a more reliable funding stream for parks.

“This park, because of deferred maintenance, it really has gone for a very long time and just limped along,” Carolyn Rose, superintendent of the Balmorhea Park, said in an interview.

The parks system in Texas has become straddled with an estimated $800 million maintenance backlog, due largely to the way lawmakers have chosen to allocate funding.

Under state law, tax revenue from sporting goods sales is supposed to be sent to the parks department and the state historical commission. But through the years, lawmakers have directed only a portion of that revenue to those entities, using the rest for other purposes.

Complicating matters further, the allocated amounts have fluctuated from one legislative session to the next.

“You might think, ‘OK, this next year we’re going to work on this particular project,’ and then, ‘Oh, no, we didn’t get the funding,’” Rose said.

In Balmorhea, the park closures have been more than just an inconvenience.

Even as oil drilling has rapidly expanded around the town in recent years, some businesses still rely on the tourist dollars the pool attracts.

At El Oso Flojo (Lazy Bear) Lodge in Balmorhea, owner Joel Madrid said he’s hoping to add new rock landscaping around the irrigation canal that runs in front of the lodge, carrying the same spring water that feeds the pool.

Children play in the canals, he said, so he wants to make them safer. But the park closures have hurt his bottom line, even in the off-season.

“We’ve had [scuba] divers here when it’s been snowing,” Madrid said. “It definitely has taken a toll on us.”

While the lodge fills with oilfield workers during the week, Madrid still depends on tourists coming in for the weekends.

“The pool’s going to carry us,” he said. “It’ll be there when the oilfield is long gone.”

The proposal on the Tuesday ballot could help ensure a more stable future for the Balmorhea pool and parks like it.

Proposition 5 would mandate that sporting goods tax revenue be dedicated to parks and historic sites, though lawmakers could still decide to move the money elsewhere with a two-thirds vote of both legislative houses.

The proposal hasn’t drawn much pushback in Republican-controlled Texas. Two Republican lawmakers sponsored bills that led to the amendment being placed on the ballot. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick also supports for the idea.

“There’s got to be a consistency, not just an increase in funding, but a consistency in funding,” said George Bristol, a longtime Texas political operative and parks advocate who supports the proposition.

“We’ve literally had a year where we got $25-30 million in maintenance money, and the next year we got zero,” he said. “That’s no way to run anything.”

Rose, the Balmorhea superintendent, said a more reliable funding stream would allow her to tackle repairs sooner, before they become a major headache, and to think about the park’s longer-term needs.

“I feel like it will keep what happened before from happening again,” she said.

Source: https://www.courthousenews.com/money-for-texas-ailing-parks-system-is-up-to-voters/

Proposition 5 to help lack of funding for state parks in desperate need of repair

Rivard Report

October 28, 2019
KTXS 12 | By SBG San Antonio Staff Reports

Voters in San Antonio and across the state only have five more days if they want to vote early on 10 constitutional amendments. One of those amendments aims at getting consistent funding for our state parks.

Proposition 5 should help with the chronic lack of funding for projects to improve and repair things in our state parks. This amendment has a lot of support from Governor Greg Abbott and other state officials.

According to the Texas Wildlife Association, there is $750 million in deferred maintenance for our state parks.

Since 1993, funding for state parks comes from sales tax and sporting good stores, but the percentage of how much money they get varies from year to year. Basically, there is a loophole sending that money to other programs.

“That infrastructure is not only deteriorating but it wasn’t contemplated of a population that has risen to the level that it is today,” said David Yeates, CEO of the Texas Wildlife Association.

This amendment would make sure 100% of that money goes directly to state parks. Most of our state parks are anywhere from 40 to 80 years old and some need desperate help, especially for older roadways and buildings like visitor centers and restrooms.

“This is a really amazing opportunity, it’s not a tax, it’s a constitutional amendment that will create funding for the parks that we love,” said Anna Farrell Sherman with Environment Texas.

There are a number of state parks around the San Antonio area, including Government Canyon State Park, which is important for recharging our aquifer and also offers more than 40 miles of hiking trails.

The San Antonio Missions are part of the National Park System so this funding would not go to those parks.

Source: https://ktxs.com/news/texas/proposition-5-to-help-lack-of-funding-for-state-parks-in-desperate-need-of-repair

Proposition 5 to help lack of funding for state parks in desperate need of repair

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October 28, 2019
News 4 San Antonio | By SBG San Antonio Staff Reports

Voters in San Antonio and across the state only have five more days if they want to vote early on 10 constitutional amendments. One of those amendments aims at getting consistent funding for our state parks.

Proposition 5 should help with the chronic lack of funding for projects to improve and repair things in our state parks. This amendment has a lot of support from Governor Greg Abbott and other state officials.

According to the Texas Wildlife Association, there is $750 million in deferred maintenance for our state parks.

Since 1993, funding for state parks comes from sales tax and sporting good stores, but the percentage of how much money they get varies from year to year. Basically, there is a loophole sending that money to other programs.

“That infrastructure is not only deteriorating but it wasn’t contemplated of a population that has risen to the level that it is today,” said David Yeates, CEO of the Texas Wildlife Association.

This amendment would make sure 100% of that money goes directly to state parks. Most of our state parks are anywhere from 40 to 80 years old and some need desperate help, especially for older roadways and buildings like visitor centers and restrooms.

“This is a really amazing opportunity, it’s not a tax, it’s a constitutional amendment that will create funding for the parks that we love,” said Anna Farrell Sherman with Environment Texas.

There are a number of state parks around the San Antonio area, including Government Canyon State Park, which is important for recharging our aquifer and also offers more than 40 miles of hiking trails.

The San Antonio Missions are part of the National Park System so this funding would not go to those parks.

Source: https://news4sanantonio.com/news/local/proposition-5-to-help-lack-of-funding-for-state-parks-in-desperate-need-of-repair

Proposition 5 Can Help Provide Funding on State Parks in the Valley

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October 28, 2019
KRGV | By Monica De Anda

State parks around Texas, including four in the Rio Grande Valley, could see steady funding but it’s up to voters to decide next Tuesday.

Proposition 5 is one of 10 proposals on the November 5 ballot. It would guarantee funding to state parks to help with park maintenance.

Estero Llano Grande State Park is one of 80 state parks in Texas.

“There’s a list of about $800 million worth of repairs for state parks throughout the state,” explained Javier de Leon, park superintendent at Estero Llano Grande State Park.

He added, “The way it is right now we defer a lot of projects and with this proposition if it passes it could speed up the process.”

De Leon says without steady funding these repairs aren’t always taken care of.

Prop. 5 is not a new tax; it would essentially amend a sales tax that has been around since 1993.

Watch the video for the full story.

Source: http://www.krgv.com/news/proposition-5-can-help-provide-funding-on-state-parks-in-the-valley

Opinion: Prop. 5 Will Keep Texas Parks Open for Everyone

Government Canyon 4577

October 28, 2019
Austin American-Statesman | By Joseph Fitzsimons

On November 5, Texans can help protect the heritage and character of Texas by voting yes for Proposition 5. The great Texas naturalist Roy Bedichek once wrote that outdoor living slows and softens us, quieting our nerves and steadying our minds. Couldn’t we all use a little more calm these days?

Texas is an urban state. Roughly 90 percent of Texans live in metropolitan areas. As more and more people move to the Lone Star state, fewer new Texas have access to the outdoors. Today, over 95 percent of Texas’s land is privately owned.

More Texans are having to go farther to find real wilderness — and the peace of mind that comes with it.

The good news, for those seeking respite from their metropolitan bubbles, is that Texas has some of the most beautiful and coveted state parks anywhere, and we have an opportunity in November to preserve, protect and enhance them for future generations.

All told, there are 95 state parks and historical sites across Texas, each one doing its part to preserve our natural environment and instill in Texans a love and appreciation of the great outdoors — an intrinsic piece of Texas heritage, culture and way of life.

The bad news is that Texas parks and historic sites have been chronically underfunded for decades. There is a more than $800 million backlog of deferred maintenance projects across the state. And with so many millions of visitors each year, the already outdated infrastructure is becoming strained. Currently, the parks welcome over 10 million visitors each year.

Though it’s encouraging that so many Texans and visitors want to experience and enjoy these natural treasures, it also leaves us with a clear charge. If we are to meet growing demand and ensure future generations can enjoy the great outdoors, we must commit to invest in the parks and we must do it now. Specifically, the park system needs a dedicated stream of funding. That is exactly what Proposition 5 will do.

The constitutional amendment (one of 10 on the ballot this fall) will dedicate revenue from the Sporting Goods Sales Tax so those dollars can only be used by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Texas Historical Commission on public parks and historic sites — all without imposing any new taxes or fees. It would be a permanent, dedicated stream of funding that would sustain the parks for years to come.

A YES vote on Prop. 5 on Nov. 5 will protect Texas’s natural areas and historic sites, so we don’t lose the very things that make Texas a special place to live. Generations of Texans have worked and enjoyed the land. It’s part of our culture, our way of life and our traditions. For this to continue, the next generation of Texans will need to have a deep appreciation for our roots, including our natural environment.

Let’s make sure they have the same access and opportunity to enjoy our land and heritage, so that, to borrow Bedichek’s words, “a thousand years from now, friends such as we will wander over these same hills inhaling the same scents and feasting their eyes upon the same beauty.”

Let’s preserve what’s important. Vote YES on Prop. 5.

Fitzsimons is the former chair of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Commission, and the co-founder of the Texas Coalition for State Parks

Source: https://www.statesman.com/opinion/20191028/opinion-prop-5-will-keep-texas-parks-open-for-everyone

Final Week of Early Voting in November 5 Texas Constitutional Amendment Election Kicks Off Today

American And Texas Flags Flying At The Texas State Capitol Building In Austin

October 28, 2019
Gilmer Mirror

Registered Texans can early vote until November 1st .

WHAT: For Texans, the final week of early voting in the constitutional amendment election this fall continues from Monday, October 28 through Friday, November 1. Those interested in voting on the 10 items on the statewide ballot can find out where they can cast their ballots as well as information on Proposition 5 by visiting the links on the Texas Coalition for State Parks’ elections page at: https://www.supporttexasparks.org/election/.

WHEN: Monday, October 28, 2019 to November 1, 2019 – Final week of early voting!

WHERE: For more information, visit: https://www.votetexas.gov/index.html

INTERVIEW: Representatives from the Texas Coalition for State Parks are available for interviews to explain the importance of voting YES on this Proposition.

WHY PROP 5: Proposition 5 is an amendment that will ensure there will be funding to protect Texas water quality, natural areas, beaches, and wildlife, so that our children and grandchildren and future generations can enjoy them the same way we do. Proposition 5 is a constitutional dedication of revenue from the existing sales tax, so those dollars can only be used by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Texas Historical Commission on public parks and historic sites. Importantly, Proposition 5 requires no new taxes or fees.

Editorial pages across the state, including the Abilene Reporter News, Austin American-Statesman, Austin Chronicle, Beaumont Enterprise, Corpus Christi Caller Times, El Paso Times, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Houston Chronicle, Longview News-Journal, Lubbock Avalanche Journal, Lufkin Daily News, San Antonio Express News, The Eagle, The Uvalde Leader, Waco Tribune-Herald, and more, have expressed their support for Proposition 5.

About the Texas Coalition for State Parks:

The Texas Coalition for State Parks, was launched by a group of former Texas Parks & Wildlife Commissioners and park advocates with the sole purpose of advocating for a constitutional dedication of the Sporting Goods Sales Tax to state parks funding. The Texas Coalition for State Parks PAC has formed to engage voters ahead of the November 5, 2019 election and encourage them to support Proposition 5. More information can be found at www.SupportTexasParks.org.

Source: http://www.gilmermirror.com/view/full_story/27675857/article-FINAL-WEEK-OF-EARLY-VOTING-IN-NOVEMBER-5-TEXAS-CONSTITUTIONAL-AMENDMENT-ELECTION-KICKS-OFF-TODAY?instance=home_news_bullets

Proposition 5 to help lack of funding for state parks in desperate need of repair

Palmetto Spr U8e4159 Opti

October 28, 2019
Fox San Antonio

Voters in San Antonio and across the state only have five more days if they want to vote early on 10 constitutional amendments. One of those amendments aims at getting consistent funding for our state parks.

Proposition 5 should help with the chronic lack of funding for projects to improve and repair things in our state parks. This amendment has a lot of support from Governor Greg Abbott and other state officials.

According to the Texas Wildlife Association, there is $750 million in deferred maintenance for our state parks.

Since 1993, funding for state parks comes from sales tax and sporting good stores, but the percentage of how much money they get varies from year to year. Basically, there is a loophole sending that money to other programs.

“That infrastructure is not only deteriorating but it wasn’t contemplated of a population that has risen to the level that it is today,” said David Yeates, CEO of the Texas Wildlife Association.

This amendment would make sure 100% of that money goes directly to state parks. Most of our state parks are anywhere from 40 to 80 years old and some need desperate help, especially for older roadways and buildings like visitor centers and restrooms.

“This is a really amazing opportunity, it’s not a tax, it’s a constitutional amendment that will create funding for the parks that we love,” said Anna Farrell Sherman with Environment Texas.

There are a number of state parks around the San Antonio area, including Government Canyon State Park, which is important for recharging our aquifer and also offers more than 40 miles of hiking trails.

The San Antonio Missions are part of the National Park System so this funding would not go to those parks.

Source: https://foxsanantonio.com/news/local/proposition-5-to-help-lack-of-funding-for-state-parks-in-desperate-need-of-repair

Let’s fund our state parks and historic sites for future generations of Texans

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October 27, 2019
Victoria Advocate | By Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) and Rep. John Cyrier (R-Lockhart) – Guest Column

Some of our families’ best summer adventures over the years have been at Texas’s state parks. And the numbers indicate that you and your family have probably enjoyed our parks and historic sites over the years, too: nearly 10 million people visited state parks in 2017, up about 40% since 2012.

Texas is growing quickly. More people are visiting the parks than ever before, and we couldn’t be happier about it. However, this puts pressure on already-strained park infrastructure, much of which is ailing.

Altogether, our state parks sit on about 640,000 acres of land, much of which was first developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s and 40s. In the decades that have followed, the infrastructure – from roads, to marinas, campgrounds, swimming pools, utility systems, sewage treatment, you name it – simply hasn’t kept up with 21st century demands.

For example, 91% of the 113 playgrounds are 30 years old or older, and 50 of those are in urgent need of replacement. And 90% of the 491 restroom facilities in the parks are over 30 years old, with 300 needing to be removed or replaced.

Now there’s something on which the Texas Legislature should take action, don’t you think?

We sure thought so. We love Texas’ state parks and want to preserve them for future generations of Texans to love and enjoy, too. And that’s why we worked hard this year to pass bipartisan legislation that would amend the state constitution accordingly.

The next and final step is to put the issue before Texas voters in this November’s election – it’ll be Proposition 5 on the ballot.

Proposition 5 is a constitutional dedication of revenue from the existing sales tax so that those dollars can only be used by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Texas Historical Commission to maintain public parks and historic sites, and not for any other purposes. (From 1993 to 2017, the state collected nearly $2.5 billion in revenues from the Sporting Goods Sales Tax, yet only 40% was been appropriated for parks, with the rest being used to fill in gaps elsewhere in the state budget.)

A YES vote on Proposition 5 will protect Texas’s natural areas and historic sites, so that we don’t lose the very things that make Texas such a special place to live.

Make no mistake: Sustainable, consistent funding is the fiscally conservative and economically sound way to ensure our parks endure for years and years to come.

One very important thing to note: Proposition 5 results in no new taxes. None. Not now, not in the future. The taxes that businesses pay will not increase; nor will the sales taxes of individual Texans increase. One of the things that makes Texas such a great place to live and work is the low tax burden that drives growth and keeps government small. As fiscal conservatives, we believe we can achieve our goals and invest in what’s important simply by being smarter and more responsible with the state revenue that we already have.

Think of it as putting a little more truth in our taxation.

The Legislature has done its part, and so now the measure goes to the people. Surely we can all agree that these special places are vital to our economy and to our Texas heritage, culture, and way of life.

We hope Texans will overwhelmingly vote for this fiscally conservative solution to fund our great parks and historic sites for generations to come. Vote YES on Proposition 5.

Sen. Lois W. Kolkhorst is a fifth generation Texan who represents Senate District 18 in the Texas State Senate.
John Patrick Cyrier is a businessman from Lockhart who is a Republican member of the Texas House of Representatives for District 17.

Source: victoriaadvocate.com/opinion/guest-column-let-s-fund-our-state-parks-and-historic/article_ade50858-f72e-11e9-814e-93bfe247b895.html

Amendment to Texas Constitution would direct funds to state parks, historical sites

Houston Chronicle

October 26, 2019
Houston Chronicle | By Matt Wyatt

$800 million.

That’s the estimated backlog for maintenance and repairs needed at Texas’ state parks and historical sites.

The number also doesn’t include the capital required to build on existing parks and develop donated land, creating new parks to meet the swelling population of the Lone Star State.

With early voting continuing through Nov. 1 and election day, Nov. 5, voters have an opportunity to help protect funds for a state park system in desperate need.

If approved by a majority of voters, Proposition 5 would add an amendment to the Texas Constitution that automatically appropriates the full revenue from the sporting goods sales tax to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Texas Historical Commission, with TPWD getting 93% and THC receiving 7%.

The sporting goods sales tax is not an extra or separate tax, it is simply the portion of the 6.25% state sales tax obtained from sporting goods purchases. The amendment would not raise taxes.
If it is not approved, the legislature would continue to be able to allocate revenue from the sporting goods sales tax elsewhere on the state budget. This has caused uncertainty and inconsistency in funding, which has handcuffed TPWD and THC.

“You can’t run a business when you don’t know what your budget is going to be in two years. And with the kind of wild cycles of budgeting that the department has seen over the last couple of decades, it’s really impossible to do long-term planning,” said Jenifer Sarver, spokesperson for the Texas Coalition for State Parks.

The coalition — a collection of 75 conservation-minded organizations like Texas Wildlife Association, Coastal Conservation Association and Ducks Unlimited — was founded by Joseph Fitzsimons and Dan Allen Hughes, former chairs of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, with “the sole purpose of getting a constitutional amendment to dedicate that sporting goods sales tax — 100 percent of it — to parks and historic sites,” Fitzsimons said.

The law, as it stands now, allows for a loophole that keeps the state’s 95 state parks, 22 historic sites and local park grant program from receiving the full amount of the sporting goods sales tax, which is contrary to the intention of the law when it was passed in 1993 to replace the penny tax on cigarettes as a steady revenue stream.

Instead, the coalition says that only about 40% of the available funds went to TPWD and THC from 1993-2017. The other 60% went to the general revenue fund, with the 2016-17 appropriation being the only instance where 100% of the funds available went where originally intended. The 2018-19 appropriation of 89% and 2010’s 60% are the only other years in which TPWD and THC received more than half of the available funds.

“It just makes sense that when you go buy a tent or kayak, that the sales tax that you pay on those items should go to giving you a place to use those items. It’s truth in taxation is what it is,” Fitzsimons said.

Fitzsimons has been working on this issue since 1999, when he was a member of then Gov. George W. Bush’s task force on conservation. Fitzsimons said one of the recommendations that task force made was for the state’s park system to be fully funded.

Now, 20 years later, that goal is within reach.

Proposition 5 comes from Senate Joint Resolution 24 and Senate Bill 26, which were unanimously approved by House and Senate members. SB 26 was signed by Gov. Gregg Abbott in June. The legislation was originally sponsored in the House by Rep. John Cyrier (R-Lockhart), the Culture, Recreation and Tourism Committee chair, and was championed in the Senate by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham).

“As our population grows, Texas must promote and protect our public parks and state historic sites. We can all agree that these special places are vital to our economy and to our heritage, culture, and way of life,” said Sen. Kolkhorst.

“Supporting our state parks and historic sites is an investment in our future and provides a gateway to the outdoors for every Texan. People should not have to wait for days or weeks to gain entrance to these locations which are true Texas treasures.”

Texas’ state parks, a majority of which are over 30 years old, hosted nearly 10 million visitors in 2017 and are becoming more dilapidated as more people pour in. The coalition says that weather-related damages alone cost $9 million annually and there are 500 specific items that currently need to be addressed.

Lake Livingston State Park alone has 10 projects listed that range from bathroom repairs, playground upgrades and road improvements.

Fitzsimons says as this backlog of issues pile up, some parks are forced to close, which can be devastating for communities.

“When you close a park, that’s like closing a major employer and tourist draw. It has a big economic impact, especially in small rural communities. That’s like a losing a factory,” Fitzsimons said.

A report by Texas A&M’s Dr. John L. Crompton analyzed the economic impact of Texas state parks. His report concluded that in 2018 state parks earned $891 million in sales, had a $240 million income impact on Texans and employs over 6,000 people.

It’s not just the accumulation of deferred maintenance that poses a challenge for TPWD, either. The ability to forge ahead with new projects has been hindered by inconsistent budgeting.

Palo Pinto Mountains State Park, for example, is a totally undeveloped, 4,000-plus acre tract west of Fort Worth that remains unopened as it awaits funding.

“You have these unused assets sitting there while more and more people are using our parks,” Sarver said.

Other undeveloped sites include Albert and Bessie Kronkosky State Natural Area, Davis Hill State Park, Chinati Mountains State Natural Area and parts of Devils River State Natural Area and Powderhorn Wildlife Management Area.

A pivotal step in resolving the myriad of issues TPWD and THC face can be taken on election day, as Proposition 5 will be voted on along with nine other amendment proposals.

If approved, the amendment would not go into effect until 2021. The amendment’s guarantee of full revenue from the sporting goods sales tax could only be tampered with by a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate, and even in that case, the amendment prevents the legislature from taking more than half from TPWD and THC.

Fitzsimons says the amendment would be a turning point for the parks systems, and in turn, Texans.

“I think the long-term benefit is quality of life of Texans. It’s an opportunity for access to the outdoors,” Fitzsimons said.

“Just think about all of the Boy Scout troops that need a place to go. Not to mention just families who want an affordable vacation.”

Source: https://www.houstonchronicle.com/sports/outdoors/article/Amendment-to-Texas-Constitution-would-direct-14565208.php

© 2019 Texas Coalition for State Parks. Political Ad by Texas Coalition for State Parks PAC.