For Immediate Release (Tuesday, March 27, 2007):
Donna Hoffman, Sierra Club, 512-477-1729 or 512-299-5776
Advocates Rally for Full Funding for State and Local Parks!
Proposed Transfer of State Historic
Sites Raises Concerns
(Austin, TX)--A wide range of groups rallied at the State Capitol today in support of full funding to address the ongoing crisis in the state parks system and the need to restore and expand the local parks grants program to
meet the growing outdoor recreational needs of Texans.
The parks advocates
also expressed concern about the attempt to move a number of historic sites out of the state park system without adequate public input or justification.
They called instead for a joint interim study of potential transfers before any such decisions are made. In the meantime one of the groups rallying at the Capitol launched a "State Parks Express" to take the public demand for a strong state parks system directly to the hometowns of key legislators who will make the ultimate decisions about parks funding.
Appropriations Process Falls Short Thus Far
Parks advocates noted that thus far the 2008-2009 appropriations bill reported out of the House Appropriations Committee does not include the full funding - an additional $170 million for the biennium - for state and local parks identified as needed by a State Parks Advisory Committee in a report issued last August.
Only $46.5 million additional money is provided for state and local parks in Article 6 of the base appropriations bill reported out by the Committee, and
$9.6 million of that comes from the sale of Eagle Mountain Lake Stare Park by Parks and Wildlife Department - money that was supposed to go toward buying more parkland but has now been earmarked for major repairs at existing parks.
"The State Parks Advisory Committee and the Parks and Wildlife Commissioners, after months of review and deliberation, recommended the specific dollar amounts for parks that the agency requested of the Legislature because we were convinced that those were the true needs in each category of parks spending," said George Bristol, President of the Texas Coalition for Conservation.
"All of the members of the Advisory Committee endorsed those spending recommendations. We have been joined by many statewide organizations, cities, counties, chambers of commerce, and newspaper editorial boards. If we are to restore our state parks to a state of excellence, Parks and Wildlife needs that full funding."
"The House Appropriations bill does plug some of the worst holes in the parks system, but the amount reminds me of Groucho Marx's line, "Look at me, I've worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty,'" said Luke Metzger, Director of Environment Texas. "We can and must do better than this."
Article 11 of the House appropriations bill - sometimes referred to as the "wish list" - includes contingency "riders" that would increase funding for state and local parks by an additional $94 million for the biennium. This additional money, however, is contingent upon the passage of both House Bill
6 and House Bill 7 or similar legislation.
HB 6 would eliminate the cap on the amount of sporting goods tax revenue going to state and local parks, a position that parks groups support.
However, HB 7 would transfer up to 25 state historic sites out of the state park system and move them under the jurisdiction of the Texas Historical Commission, a move that has been criticized by many parks advocates.
Parks Funding Held Hostage
A new bill, HB 12, originally set to be heard today by the House Committee on Culture, Recreation and Tourism, combines the basic elements of HB 6 and HB 7 into one bill. It tracks what Article 11 of the House Appropriations bill is saying in effect: if parks advocates want more state and local park funding, then they have to swallow the transfer of historical sites from the state park system to the Texas Historical Commission. However, parks advocates do not support the proposed transfers of state historic sites.
"In the last 13 months, representing Texans for State Parks, I have had the privilege of traveling over 9,000 miles, given presentations to over 50 plus groups, spoken to news people and to in excess of 12,000 people about the plight of our Texas State Parks and Historic Sites," said John Cobb, Board Member of Texans for State Parks. "In each of these meetings, not only the funding issue, but the possibility of transferring these Historic Sites has come up. I would be hard pressed to find anyone who was in favor of these transfers."
"The State of Texas uses the model of the National Park Service in managing parks and historic sites," said Evelyn Merz, Chair of the Houston Regional Group of the Sierra Club.
"A single agency is responsible for all parks and historic sites, whether the focus of an individual park is natural history, human history, recreation, or an amalgam. Under this model, the agency assigns professional and interpretive staff appropriate for each individual park. It is a successful model that economically manages personnel and resources for multiple park types."
In letters being delivered today to Governor Perry, Lt. Governor Dewhurst, and Speaker Craddick, the parks groups rallying at the Capitol said: "The current proposal to transfer 25 state historic sites [to the Historical
. Ignores the fact that the State Parks Advisory Committee and the
Senate Government Organization Committee's Interim Report to the 80th Legislature found no compelling reason to make such a transfer.
. Has not provided adequate opportunity for meaningful public input.
. Fails to demonstrate any financial benefits to the state from the
. Fails to consider all the assets and attributes of the sites to be
State Representative Donna Howard of Austin has sent a letter to Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, chair of the House committee deliberating on parks legislation, urging that possible transfers of historic sites be put on hold while an interim study more fully examines the issue.
"Texans are concerned that their parks are threatened because funding has been diverted to other progams," Howard said. "I would like to see the THC and TPWD work together in the best interests of the state's historic sites, while also ensuring that Texas taxpayers do not pay for duplicative infrastructure that is unnecessary, or worse, unworkable."
Local Park Grants Funding Needed Also
Groups attending the Capitol event also stressed the need for the Legislature to focus not only on state park needs but also on the need for state grants to maintain a strong local parks system in Texas.
"Local parks are the 'front line' for Texans to experience the outdoors, often addressing the obesity epidemic and providing for healthy life styles," said Michael Massey, Legislative Director for the Texas Recreation and Parks Society, "This front line park experience often leads to State and National Park visits."
"The Texas park system is breaking down due to over use, years of service, and budget neglect," continued Massey. "In this Legislative session we can do something about our future, HB 6 is in the right place, at the right time, and is the right use of our tax dollars. TRAPS is asking the Legislature to fully fund the parks bill (HB 6), direct all the sporting goods sales tax for use on State and Local Parks, and not to divert the use of the sporting goods sales tax for special interests."]
State Parks Express
During the course of today's press event at the State Capitol one of the parks advocacy groups, Environment Texas, launched a statewide tour of their "State Parks Express" RV, which will travel to Midland, Lubbock, Amarillo, Waco and College Station to draw attention to the parks funding crisis. In each city, the group is running radio ads inviting local citizens to come to their legislator's office for a "weenie roast for the parks". At the events, Environment Texas will screen a short film about the parks crisis narrated by Austin native and Oscar nominee Ethan Hawke.
Unprecedented Support for Parks Funding
"Over the course of the last year and a half we have seen an unprecedented outpouring of public support for dramatically enhanced funding for the state parks system and the local parks grants program," concluded Ken Kramer, Director of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. "This public outcry to save our parks has resulted in 126 members of the Texas House joining together as co-authors of HB 6 by Rep. Hilderbran to allocate all of the sporting goods tax money to state and local parks. In the Senate 23 Senators have signed on to the companion bill, SB 252. That show of legislative support, however, must now be turned into reality with the actual passage of that legislation and with the appropriation to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department of all the sporting goods tax revenue.
If legislators fail to take those decisive steps, then the rhetoric about saving our parks will be - to borrow a Texas phrase - 'all hat, no cattle.'"