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Aug. 24, 2006

Parks Advisory Committee Urges $85 Million Increase

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas State Parks Advisory Committee Chairman and former state senator John Montford today told the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission his committee recommends allocating the entire amount of state sporting goods sales tax to parks, a move which would effectively increase funding by about $85 million per year if adopted by the Texas Legislature.

Montford briefed the commission on the final report from the advisory committee, which was appointed by commission Chairman Joseph Fitzsimons in February.*

“It will not be enough to simply repair or restore the park resources and historic sites that have fallen into disrepair due to budget cuts,” Fitzsimons said. “In the long run, it is equally important to build a funding structure that allows us to meet the challenges of a growing state. We now have specific recommendations to do so, thanks to Chairman Montford and the committee members who have given their time and credibility to this cause.”

“It is clear to this committee that the financial problems facing our Texas park system must be addressed now,” Montford said. “Funding for state parks is an investment in economic, personal health and cultural benefits for the citizens of Texas. Increased park investment can be provided from the existing sporting goods tax that is paid by the users of the park system, which will rise with increased use of the system.”

The advisory committee report offers six main recommendations, recapped verbatim below.

  1. “The Legislature should appropriate all revenues generated by the Sporting Goods Sales Tax as well as other user fees and taxes presently directed to the Parks system and to the maximum extent possible, those funds should be applied to the purposes intended.”
  2. “The state should issue all bonds already approved by voters to provide for state park repairs and maintenance.”
  3. “The state should pursue a major program of acquisition and development of new parks as well as the enhancement of existing parks.”
  4. “Texas Parks and Wildlife should continue to transfer existing units of the park system to local governments or other entities where appropriate. Site transfers should not take place except where there is a significant savings to the State of Texas and where appropriate requirements and restrictions are implemented for future uses of the site.”
  5. “Texas Parks & Wildlife Department should work with the Legislature, non-profit organizations and the Texas Parks & Wildlife Foundation to maximize and facilitate donations of private lands and dollars and identify and remove statutory and administrative hurdles to such donations.”
  6. “Texas Parks and Wildlife should continue and increase its emphasis on collaborative public-private partnerships. Projects such as Government Canyon State Natural Area, and the friends groups at State Historic Sites such as Washington-on-the Brazos and Casa Navarro in San Antonio, should serve as models for the Department.”

The advisory committee identified specific park system needs, saying its recommendations “will deliver quality, but not extravagant, services and facilities, but will require significant increases above current funding levels.” Below is a rundown of recommendations for additional funding, verbatim from the committee report.

Asked about political support for implementing committee recommendations in the upcoming Texas legislative session, Montford had this to say:

“Will this objective be easy? No. The legislature has to balance a number of other priorities. But there is growing support for a substantial and sustainable source of funding for parks, especially when we show that park funding is an investment which yields valuable returns. Several other factors are generating positive momentum. Voter referenda, such as Proposition 8, show people are willing to pay for our parks. Virtually every major Texas newspaper in recent months has devoted either editorial or column space to supporting our state parks. The time for action is now.”

The advisory committee report, plus background information on the sporting goods sales tax and the economic benefits of state parks, is on the TPWD Web site.

* Correction, Aug. 29, 2006: The original version of the news release said the committee was appointed in April. It was appointed in February and held its first meeting in April. (Return to corrected item.)

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