Q: Texas doesn't have enough money to ____

Nov 26, 2013

Pedernales Falls State Park, a popular destination outside of Austin.
Credit MOSE BUCHELE / http://stateimpact.npr.org/

A:  Keep up its state parks.

State parks in Texas have always had one struggle, and that’s money.  In the early 1900s, Texas landowners tried to donate large chunks of land to create state parks.  Initially they were turned down by lawmakers who didn’t want to fund the maintenance costs, and when the land was finally accepted, it was without the promise of upkeep.  Fifty years later, not much has changed according to StateImpact Texas.

Texas Parks and Wildlife is the only state agency with a dedicated sales tax. Under state law, a portion of the sales tax on sporting goods is meant to go for parks. But lawmakers consistently divert some of that money to balance the state budget.

“I think, in a way, the parks exemplify the worst that we’ve got in budgeting, as far as the Senate and House are concerned,” state Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, said at a panel on parks during the Texas Tribune Festival earlier this year.

“If you’re raising $260 million, and you’re using 25 percent of that for its intended purpose, and then you’re back-loading to certify the budget the balance of it — Well, then you’re leaving your parks out.”

The situation was even worse for parks a few years back when the department’s budget was slashed along with those of most other state agencies.

This year, lawmakers restored much of that money, but came nowhere close to providing enough for park upgrades, to say nothing of acquiring more parkland.

Rep. Larson sees next year’s statewide elections as an opportunity.

“Talk to the folks that are running for office, and talk to them about parks,” Larson said. “Are they committed to stopping the diversion of the sporting good tax?”