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Texas State Parks and The Budget

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At the beginning of this year, supporters of the Texas State Parks were solicited for donations. On the homepage of TPWD and the top of each park’s website, there is still a message asking for financial help. Part of the reason TPWD needs such urgent financial help is due to the droughts and wildfires last year that reduced tourism and park visitation. Some of the reason the parks need help, though, is something they are not discussing in their plea, but potentially is the source of the problem.

Before 1993, funding for Texas state parks was provided through the fees for entry and activities, and through 1% of the tax on cigarettes. The Texas legislature that year decided that perhaps the smoking tax was not something that directly related to the support of the parks, and perhaps even went against the image they were trying to promote. It was decided that year to appropriate funds from the tax on sporting goods instead to finance the park.

From that year on, some portion of the sporting goods tax was allocated to running the state parks, but the voters had decided to keep it less than 32 million in 1995. In 2008, the Legislature revisited the decision to cap the allocations, as sporting goods taxes had soared to over 100 million dollars in revenue and pressure had increased from representatives across the state. It was decided at that point to allocate 94% of the tax to running the state parks, and the remaining 6% to the Texas Historical Commission.

However, the trouble was getting the 94% actually in the hands of TPWD. Before the parks received the money they were due, it would be diverted away from them. In this current budgeting year, the sporting goods tax is expected to raise $250 million, but only 53.1 million is designated for the parks, while another 22 million will go to beach erosion. The rest, $175.9 million, will go to “balancing the State’s budget”. Currently (according to Representative Lyle Larson, San Antonio), with $125 million coming in,only $26 million is going toward state parks.

And yet, TPWD is stuck with its hand out, begging for money. With its current goal being to raise 4.6 million dollars, it’s less than 25% to its goal. The latest update (Feb 21 2012) of where they were towards this goal had them at less than 25% of what they need, at 1.14 million. Most of that has come from two huge donations: $500,000 from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation and $250,000 from the Lufkin-based Temple Foundations.

There are ways to support the TPWD to keep the parks open, the employees paid, and the infrastructure updated. Those ways include what TPWD is saying on their homepage: donate $5 through the DMV when registering your vehicle, buy a conservation license plate, donate through the website, buy a state parks pass, and visit the state parks. Potentially, though, applying pressure to your local representative to support the allocation of the sporting goods tax to the parks and to not to support the diversion of the designated funds to other areas of the budget, may be a more effective way to keep the parks alive.

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