Monday, August 17, 2015

Texas Legislature decision will lead to millions of dollars for Texas Parks and Wildlife

George Bristol, author of On Politics and Parks, is founder of the Texas Coalition for Conservation, a nonprofit alliance that has coordinated efforts to maintain funding for Texas state parks. He also served as a board member of the National Park Foundation and as a consultant on the Ken Burns PBS series on national parks.

Here Bristol discusses the implications of recently passed legislation directing funds to Texas Parks and Wildlife.

Texas A&M University Press: Why is this new funding appropriation important for Texas Parks and Wildlife?

George Bristol: With the passage of HB 158 the Texas Legislature has guaranteed a substantial and reliable flow of funding from the "Sporting Goods Sales Tax" for the foreseeable future. Both from a budget planning standpoint, as well as a method to keep our parks attractive and attracting visitors, such a commitment is essential. That has always been the case, but now the legislature has recognized, honored, and fulfilled that obligation. It will mean millions of dollars to repair old parks and plan and develop new parks that have recently been added to the system. Hopefully much of this work can be accomplished by 2023—the centennial of the Texas State Park System. 

TAMU Press: Can you shed any insight into how it all came together?

GB: For the past 14 years, principally through the constant work of the Texas Coalition for Conservation, there has been a growing groundswell of support for consistent and reliable funding from the revenues generated by the "Sporting Goods Sales Tax" which is not a separate tax, but part of the existing sales tax structure of Texas. Not only were like minded organizations recruited to join the effort, but tools for advocacy were created: economic impact studies of state parks on local communities and businesses, public opinion surveys before each session of the legislature and materials to be used for op-ed pieces in the news media, as well as for letters and emails to elected officials. Slowly but surely the accumulation of fact and persuasion caused leaders like Speaker Joe Straus and Representatives Hilderbran and Larson to lend their support to efforts to correct past wrongs. HB158 is the last and hopefully conclusive monumental achievement of all those efforts over all those years.

TAMU Press: What are some of the challenges, in your view, that Texas Parks and Wildlife will face long-term from a funding perspective? How might those needs be met going forward?

GB: The future is not easy to predict. What is easy to judge is that, I believe, given the proper financial tools, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and its staff is capable of putting those new-found dollars to work for the betterment of the parks and park visitors. Obviously a body blow to the overall financial well-being of the state, can and will affect budgets. However, I am confident that there are enough well- informed legislators who will be around to make up the shortfalls when the economy rights itself. Furthermore, I am confident that well maintained and operated parks are one of the answers to a strong economy. Coupled with the physical, mental, and spiritual well-being provided by parks, Texas will be a better place to live and raise families.

Written by Emily Seyl

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