I am excited to report that the Texas House recently passed my legislation to provide a stable funding source for Texas state parks. It now awaits one final vote in the senate before heading to Governor Abbott’s desk. When finally passed, this legislation will place a state constitutional amendment on the ballot this November to dedicate a portion of the current sales taxes revenue already received from sporting goods sales in Texas for the maintenance of our state park system. This revenue is already intended for our state parks but has frequently been diverted away to other uses. This constitutional amendment would essentially stop the practice of diverting these funds away from our state parks and provide them with the stable funding source they require.
State parks play an important role in our state and in our house district, which is home to five state parks: Bastrop State Park, Buescher State Park, Lockhart State Park, Palmetto State Park, and Lake Somervell State Park.
Our state parks provide opportunities for recreational enjoyment and conserve the natural beauty of our state for the public’s enjoyment. Along with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s stewardship of state lands, wildlife, and habitats, state parks are 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.
They also play an important role in disaster relief and recovery. 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.
Despite the vital importance of our state parks system, since 1993, more than half of the sporting good sales tax revenue originally intended for state parks has been diverted to other uses. As a result, state parks suffer from more than $800 million in deferred maintenance. Several state parks have experienced intermittent closure due to failing infrastructure, lack of capacity, and inadequate staffing resources. As an example, recent budget cuts in 2011 resulted in more than 60 layoffs to park rangers and staff and services were reduced at 23 state parks.
It is time to fix this problem. Our parks are vital to our state’s economy, emergency response efforts, wildlife management, and recreational opportunities. That is why I worked with Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) to pass companion legislation to place this constitutional amendment on the ballot and shore up the funding system for our parks. The amendment would also provide a stable funding source to our state historical commission, which maintains
state historic sites. These funds could not be diverted to other uses except by a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate. While the legislation still has a few more hurdles to clear, we are closer than ever before to securing the long-term future of our state parks.
Rep. John Cyrier (R-Lockhart) is Chairman of the Committee on Culture, Recreation, and Tourism, and represents District 17 in the Texas House.