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Legislature Approves Additional Park Funding
AUSTIN, Texas — The 80th Texas legislature has approved HB 1 and HB 12, which provide significant new funding for state parks. HB 1, the appropriations bill, and several related provisions in HB 12 will provide approximately $182 million in additional funding for state and local parks in the 2008-2009 biennium.
“All Texans owe a debt of thanks to our state elected leaders,” said Joseph Fitzsimons, TPW Commission chairman. “Because of the unwavering support of Gov. Perry and our friends in the Texas Legislature, we are on the road to fulfilling a vision of great parks for a great state.”
HB 12 was authored by Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, who chairs the House Culture, Recreation and Tourism Committee and tirelessly championed the bill. HB12 was sponsored by Sen. Craig Estes on the Senate side.
Instrumental in supporting the legislation in the closing days of the session were House Speaker Tom Craddick, Lt. Governor David Dewhurst, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Warren Chisum, Senate Natural Resources Committee Chairman Kip Averitt, Rep. Carl Isett and many other legislators.
“It will be several days before we have a complete understanding of details in the appropriations bill and related legislation, but we are very, very pleased with the appropriations approved by the Texas Legislature,” said Robert L. Cook, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department executive director. “With the funding provided by our legislators we will be able to make great strides in providing adequate staffing, equipment, repairs and operating to significantly improve our state park system.”
It will take some time to fully analyze this complicated legislation, which is why details are not immediately clear. Based on a review of the appropriations bill and the legislative conference committee report on HB 12, TPWD believes that the additional park funding provides:
- $25.6 million to operate state parks, including 229 additional FTE positions
- $8 million for state park minor repairs
- $9.7 million for state park capital equipment, such as vehicles and computers
- $3 million in additional support for state parks, including new architects and estimators in TPWD’s Infrastructure Division to fulfill recommendations of the recent SAO state park audit.
- $44.1 million for major repairs to TPWD sites. Of the total, $17 million is Proposition 8 bond funding approved by Texas voters in 2001, and $27.1 million is a new bond issue that must first be approved by voters this coming November.
- $13.9 million in land acquisition funding. This includes $9.6 million from the sale of the Eagle Mountain Lake State Park property near Fort Worth. It also includes $4.3 million for acquisition of inholdings and properties adjacent to existing state parks.
- $36.3 million for local park grants to cities and counties. This restores full funding for local park grants to $15.5 million per year, plus the appropriations bill allocated an additional $16.7 million for specific park projects.
- $16 million in appropriation authority if TPWD implements SAO state park audit recommendations. This essentially allows the department to spend revenue it brings in above projected estimates from sources like state park entrance and camping fees.
- $25 million in a new bond issue to fund dry berthing and repairs for the Battleship TEXAS in La Porte, bonds which must first be approved by voters this coming November.
HB 12 transfers 18 state historic sites from TPWD to the Texas Historical Commission, and it earmarks 6 percent of state sales tax attributable to sporting goods to the THC. The bill also sets up a legislative task force to study sporting goods tax funding and make recommendations for the next session.
As HB 12 neared passage in conference committee last week, a number of other bills that affect TPWD were attached to it and are now all headed to the governor’s desk for consideration as part of HB 12. These include HB 1309, relating to possession or transportation of certain snakes that are not indigenous to this country; HB 2001, relating to a program to control or eradicate nuisance aquatic vegetation; HB 2414, relating to hunting from public roads or rights-of-way; HB 3765, relating to the taking or unloading of fish in this state; SB 775, relating to an interim study concerning this state’s hunting and fishing license systems; SB 1172 relating to the disposition of income at Palo Duro Canyon State Park; and SB 997, relating to the regulation of commercially operated party boats on public water of this state.
In another state park related action, SB 1659 passed, a bill relating to the transfer of the Texas State Railroad. SB 1659 will transfer railroad operations to a new railroad authority. The appropriations bill provides $2 million to serve as a match for a $10 million federal grant through the Texas Department of Transportation for railroad capital repairs and improvements.
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