For Immediate Release Thursday, February 24, 2011:
For More Information: Evelyn
Merz, Conservation Chair, Sierra Club, 713-644-8228, 713-201-4061 (cell) Ken Kramer 512-476-6962 (office), 512-626-4204 (cell)
Statement of Ken Kramer,
Director, Lone Star Chapter, Sierra Club on
Texas Parks & Wildlife Commission’s
Proposed Budget for 2012-2013:
Texas Parks & Wildlife Faces
a Budget Crunch
state should take an equitable and reasonable
approach on state parks funding and the local
parks grants program.
The appropriations for Texas
Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD), like those
for every other state agency, will be reduced
during tough economic times. The Lone Star Chapter
of the Sierra Club believes that the budget cuts adopted
for TPWD need to be equitable and reasonable and
should position TPWD and its parks programs for
recovery when the economy improves.
The initial Legislative Budget Board recommendations
for 2012-2013 would reduce the agency’s Parks
by $24.9 million over the biennium and cut 108 full-time
positions. This level of reduction would have serious detrimental impacts on a state parks system that has been rebuilding in the past few years after a long period of serious underfunding, lack of adequate staffing levels, and strained and outdated infrastructure and equipment. Cutting the state parks budget too deeply at this point would set back the progress that has been made. A more balanced and reasoned approach is necessary.
As part of such an approach, the Sierra Club recommends the following actions:
Increase the allocation of Sporting
Goods Sales Tax (SGST) to TPWD by $10 to $12 million over
the biennium. This is the most important source of funds for the agency’s parks programs. The proposed 2012-2013 appropriations would only allocate $63 million from this vital source – a 55% reduction from the $141.5 million appropriated in 2010-2011.
Increasing the allocation by $10 to $12 million over the biennium would result in an allocation within the range of $73 million to $75 million.
This would still constitute a reduction of $63.5 million to $65.5 million compared to 2010-2011 appropriations. The recommended increase would cover the following items:
Additional payment of $2 million in salary fringe benefits incurred due to Method of Finance Swap, which would pay some salary from State Parks Account 64 instead of SGST.
$2.5 million per year ($5 million
biennium) for the Local Parks Grants Program so that
it might operate at a minimal level – still 84% less than
Funding for security and minimal maintenance at any state parks which might have to be closed due to budget constraints.
Flexibility to restore a portion
of the $3.2 million reduction to the SGST allocation, which
the LBB has proposed to replace via a new $5 voluntary
donation check-off during vehicle registration. The LBB has recommended that legislation be introduced to create the voluntary option and reduced the SGST allocation in anticipation of what is an unproven revenue stream.
Allow TPWD to consider, on an individual
basis, whether a local community would be better able to
support and interpret any specific state park considered
for transfer to the local government. A temporary closure of the park or reduced operating hours could be preferable in the short term.
Approve the “Entrepreneurial Rider” (formerly Rider
27), which would allow TPWD to retain self-generated revenue
above the amount that the Comptroller estimates TPWD will
generate during the biennium. This gives an incentive to TPWD to generate revenue through its own initiative.
Appropriate all the dedicated funds
generated by the bluebonnet specialty license plate to
state parks. Citizens purchase those special license plates expecting that 100% of the proceeds go to state parks. The proposed budget appropriates only 50% of collected funds, weakening public trust in the product.
Approve $32.35 million in General
Obligation bond authority in FY 2013. The debt
service is minimal – only $20,000 for the biennium. This
move would allow the continuation of a consistent capital
Allow TPWD to maximize available
federal funds. State matches for federal funds increases
overall availability of funds. In particular, permit an increase in full time positions when federal funds specifically designated for salary costs are received.
Approve legislation to allow a voluntary
$5 donation to Texas state parks during vehicle registration.
Allocate $2.5 million per year ($5
million 2012-13 biennium) to the local parks grants program. Although this is an 84% reduction compared to previous level of $15.5 million per year, the alternative is preferable to ending all grants. This solution will position the program for recovery.
Allow TPWD flexibility in determining
when reductions in full-time positions are scheduled or
programs are deferred, as long as the budget reductions
are met over the biennium. Currently, the budget
proposes “front-loading” cuts into FY 2012 and then restoring some of the money in FY 2013, which would unnecessarily disrupt a number of important activities and make it much more difficult to carry out those activities effectively.
The Texas Parks & Wildlife Department’s parks program reached
a low point in 2005 when 73 staff positions were eliminated,
and the operating hours and days at many state parks were
dramatically scaled back due to insufficient funding over
several biennium. At that time the average mileage on TPWD
Parks Division vehicles was over 100,000 miles, and infrastructure
was deteriorating or had deteriorated badly at many parks
around the state.
The public expressed concern as this situation became known, and the Legislature responded by increasing parks funding. That increase allowed TPWD to start rebuilding a high quality parks system. That progress needs to be maintained to meet the growing public demand for outdoor recreation in Texas. Precision reductions in parks funding will allow TPWD to maintain some momentum and ramp back up as the state financial picture improves.
For More Information:
Evelyn Merz, Conservation Chair, Sierra Club, 713-644-8228, 713-201-4061 (cell)
Ken Kramer, Director, Lone Star Chapter, 512-476-6962 (office), 512-626-4204 (cell)