State Legislators Debate Funding for Parks

Rachel APF News, Park Advocacy
, Park Advocacy, Parks, Support Our Parks

Bills Propose Sporting Goods Sales Tax Be Directed to Parks as Intended

Up at the Capital, legislators are considering bills (SB 26, SJR 24, HJR 39, and HR 1214) that would amend the Texas Constitution to ensure that sales tax collected from the sale of sporting goods is dedicated to Texas State Parks and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department as originally intended. Currently, less than half of the money that should be going to state parks is actually going to TPWD, and these bills would make sure dollars are getting put to work in our parks.

A portion of this money would benefit local parks in the form of grants. Austin’s parks have benefited from this money in the past, and stand to gain a lot from the passage of these bills and the much-needed funding they provide.

What Can You Do?

Look up who your State Representative and Senator are here, and let them know you support these bills and want them to as well! Your voice is a powerful tool for change and every email, phone call and social message you send in support of these bills will help us get the funding our parks deserve.

How Did We Get Here?

As you already know, parks can be a favorite for cuts when times are lean, and our state parks aren’t immune. In fact, Rep. John Cyrier recently penned a piece for the Austin-American Statesman explaining just how this happened, excerpted below:

“Funds intended for [state park] upkeep have been diverted elsewhere, year after year. There is a simple fix to this problem. Stop the practice of diverting funds collected for our parks to other uses. Since 1993, when the Texas Legislature voted to fund our parks system with state sales tax revenues collected from sporting goods sales, only 47 percent of the nearly $2.8 billion collected have been appropriated to state parks.

Yet the value of our state parks, extends beyond sporting and recreation. During Hurricane Harvey, state parks, park police, rangers and other staff became vital parts of the emergency response infrastructure. Sixty inland state parks provided free shelter to 8,175 displaced families for periods that ranged from days to months. Four hundred park personnel conducted more than 12,000 rescues.

Our state parks and the department’s stewardship of state lands, wildlife, and habitats are also central to fishing, hunting, outdoor sporting, and tourism industries. These combine for billions of dollars in annual economic impact and more than one million Texas jobs.

Despite this, state parks have historically been among the first on the budgetary chopping block. Budget cuts in 2011 resulted in more than 60 layoffs to park rangers and staff—some of the same positions that played critical roles during Hurricane Harvey. Following those cuts, services were reduced at 23 state parks.

Today, our parks system is so far behind that several parks frequently close due to lack of capacity and deferred maintenance that exceeds $800 million. Many parks lack ADA accessibility. Last year, over half the groups seeking to use group facilities at state parks were denied due to lack of capacity. Our state parks have reached a crisis moment.” 

What’s Next?

The Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on both SB26 and SJR24, and several key witnesses testified in support of the legislation. You can watch archived video of the hearing here. Sen. Kolkhorst offered committee substitutes for both SB 26 and SJR 24, and both were voted out of committee with a unanimous vote of 13-0. It’s important now to continue to let remaining senators who have not signed on to the legislation know how much their support would mean.

The following Senators have not signed on to SJR24: Alvarado, Birdwell, Creighton, Hall, Miles, Nelson, Paxton, West, Whitmire. If you are represented by one of these senators, please let them know how important these funds are for our parks!