We shouldn’t be closing them in bad times, and we definitely shouldn’t be closing them in good times.
“We need to turn up the volume and let people know that our state parks are threatened,” said Ian Davis, director of the Keep Texas Parks Open campaign. “We’re in a time of budget surplus, and it seems backwards to be closing parks.”
Texas Comptroller Susan Combs has predicted a 12.4 percent or $11.2 billion increase in general revenue funds for the 2014-15 biennium.
But the initial proposed park budget being considered by the Texas House and Senate now is $4.1 million short of the bare minimum necessary to keep the state’s 91 parks open, park officials say. The Legislative Budget Board, which develops budget and policy recommendations for the Legislature, last week estimated such a cut could close as many as nine parks but did not identify any particular ones.
Despite the potentially dire outlook, Texas Parks and Wildlife Executive Director Carter Smith remains optimistic: “This is only a beginning point of a long budget process that will take place over the next couple of months.”
After a hearing before the Senate Finance Committee on Feb. 6, the committee’s chairman, Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, asked parks and wildlife for a more detailed accounting of its needs.
“I’m not personally interested in seeing any state parks closed. But there’s some confusion on what we need to do to help,” he stated.
Beside being short on operation expenses, the proposed budget includes nothing for capital improvements for aging facilities.
While costs for everything from gas to weather-related damage have soared, the proposed 2014-15 park budget of $140.7 million is some $19 million less than what was appropriated for the department in the 2008-2009 biennium, records show.
Just to bring a little math here, $140.7 million is 0.14% of the total revenue estimate of $101.4 billion for this biennium. Restoring the TPWD budget to $159.7 million would be 0.16% of the total. In other words, it’s basically rounding error. Especially after all of the weather-related trauma some parks have suffered through, the better question to ask is how much do they need to get back to where they ought to be. One way to fix this problem, as Ian Davis wrote in an op-ed, is to stop the diversion of funds that were intended to be dedicated to parks into general revenue, which is one of the many accounting tricks used to make the budget look “balanced” in 2011. State Rep. Lyle Larson has filed HB 105 to end that diversion and fully fund Texas’ parks. If you care about this, that’s something you should support. Give a Like to Keep Texas Parks Open for more.