Some think enjoying the outdoors is every Texan’s birthright.
But for many years, the Legislature has funded parks and historic sites in a piecemeal fashion.
First, the Legislature funded them by levying a one-penny-per-pack tax on cigarettes. In 1993, it started funding them by levying a tax on sporting goods, but it wasn’t until 2015 that parks and historic sites got near the full amount of tax revenue collected.
Now State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, and 11 other senators propose changing the Texas Constitution so they do get the full amount.
“This will allow maintenance, repairs and improvements to happen on a regular basis. Texans should not have to wait days, weeks or months to gain entrance to these locations, which are true Texas treasures,” Kolkhorst wrote in a statement.
The fishing pier, the bayfront campsites and the group recreation hall at Goose Island State Park, which is in Kolkhorst’s district, remain closed because of damage from Hurricane Harvey in August 2017.
It’s one of 16 state parks that sustained damage from Harvey along with five wildlife management areas, eight coastal fisheries facilities and the Rockport regional office. Some parks were closed for up to six months. Overall, the damage cost $27.5 million, and only a third is expected to be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The agency laid this and other challenges out in its legislative appropriations request for FY 2020-2021.
The other challenges include increased visitation – up 40 percent from five years ago – and a backlog of needed repairs to parks and historic sites.
The agency is requesting $15.4 million in the next biennium to address park operating needs, many of which are directly related to the increased visitation and the wear and tear that comes with that. The agency is also seeking $9 million for repairs related to Hurricane Harvey damage.
At the Goliad State Park, for example, the maintenance shop needs to be relocated and the Angel of Goliad Hike and Bike Trail needs to be repaved because of Harvey damage, agency spokeswoman Stephanie Salinas Garcia said.
Kolkhorst filed Senate Joint Resolution 24 on Dec. 20. It has a companion, House Joint Resolution 39, filed by State Rep. John Cyrier, R-Lockhart. Both need the support of two-thirds of both chambers before a resolution can be placed on a ballot for an upcoming election.
Cyrus Reed, the conservation director of the Sierra Club’s Lone Star Chapter, said he supports these resolutions.
“The outdoors are important, but it’s also important economically for a lot of our rural communities that parks are up and functioning, have working bathrooms and all that kind of stuff,” he said.
Few environmental bills have been filed so far.
State Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, filed SB 208, which increases the required space between concrete plants or crushing facilities and residences, schools or churches from 440 yards to 880 yards.
State Sen. Borris Miles, D-Houston, filed SB 180. It requires companies building or expanding in an area where 30 percent or more of the population lives below 200 percent of the federal poverty level and 50 percent or more of the population are members of a racial minority to work closely with the local government and residents to mitigate any negative environmental effect.
Reed noted that this bucks a trend by the Legislature. In 2015, it passed House Bill 40, which prohibited cities and counties from regulating oil and gas development within their jurisdictions. And in 2017, the Legislature tried to prevent local governments from protecting heritage trees. He said the Sierra Club will continue to defend local decision-making about the environment, but Miles filed the same bill last session. Records show it didn’t make it out of the Natural Resources and Economic Development Committee.
“Most of the bills that I’d say we expect action on haven’t been filed yet, which isn’t surprising,” Reed said.
The legislative session begins Jan. 8.