Texas Looks for $$ to Keep State Parks Open
The political will to keep state parks open across the state of Texas has been prominent in government hearings and the minds of legislators, the Abiline Reporter-News reported.
“I’m optimistic that we will adequately and properly fund state parks out of this budget cycle,” said Texas Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo.
The examination of parks stood out when a state budget analyst agency reported that the state funding levels in lawmakers’ proposed budget could result in the closure of recreational lands.
Even so, the executive director of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department said parks wouldn’t be closing.
“The testimony … is that there will be no closures of parks in the state, even if we did not fully appropriate their budget request of $6 million,” Darby said. Parks and Wildlife Executive Director Carter Smith “assured us there would not be a state park closure.”
Darby sits on committees for appropriations in the Texas House, and is chairman of a subcommittee that includes Parks and Wildlife.
In a visit to the San Angelo State Park, Darby said he noticed that the newest vehicle he saw was 12 years old. He hopes parks get not only enough funding to stay alive but to make capital improvements as well, such as with the vehicles.
“I think … the leadership in both houses in our state government want to make sure our parks are adequately funded,” Darby said.
One possible source of money for keeping parks alive could be to further use a fund set aside for Parks and Wildlife that is projected over the next two years to have $143.5 million in undesignated sporting goods sales-tax receipts.
“We have not fully appropriated all of the moneys collected from the sales tax on outdoor wearing apparel,” Darby said. “We didn’t spend the money. That money is still in the account.”
Darby said he would like to use that money to keep parks afloat, then take whatever is left and possibly look at decreasing the tax that funds it. Darby joins other leaders in the Legislature who want to move away from the budget gimmick of not using funds dedicated for special purposes but instead using them mostly to balance the state budget.
Tom Harvey, media communications director for Parks and Wildlife, said the will is there to keep going.
“We’re actually encouraged in what we’re seeing (from) the Legislature so far,” Harvey said.
He noted that State Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said he isn’t interested in closing parks.
However, if the budget passes as is, Parks and Wildlife may not be in a good spot.
“Then we would have to make some difficult decisions,” he said.