As the books close on the 84th Texas Legislature, members and staff can return to their districts knowing they have done something crucial for the future of Texas: They have ensured proper and consistent funding for our state and local parks.
That’s good news for the health of Texas families and children who enjoy recreational activities in our state and local parks — and it’s great news for our environment, as our parks help provide important stewardship and conservation of our state’s vast natural and cultural resources.
But how did lawmakers achieve this?
Since 1993, the state has collected more than $2 billion in revenues designated to fund state parks and provide grants for local parks.
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However, previous Legislatures have ultimately appropriated only 36 percent of those funds for parks, putting the rest in general revenue accounts to spend on items other than parks.
Because of the vision, commitment to truth-in-budgeting and political will of Speaker Joe Straus and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, this Legislature ended the diversion of park funds.
Legislation authored by Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, and Senate sponsor Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, will ensure 100 percent of sporting goods sales tax revenue collected will be used for parks and historical sites.
House Bill 158 passed nearly unanimously in both chambers and was signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott before the session even ended.
In addition to legislative champions who worked across the aisle and in both chambers to ensure passage of this important legislation, the people of Texas made their voices heard.
A diverse coalition of parks supporters came together to support this legislation and ensure that lawmakers from every corner of the state heard from their constituents on this issue.
Environmental, conservation, tourism, outdoor and hunting and wildlife advocates came together in an unprecedented way to support our state and local parks.
The timing of this legislation is crucial.
Recent storms have reminded us of the vagaries of Mother Nature and the vulnerable nature of many of our state park facilities to major storm events.
Fifty-seven state parks were affected by flooding.
Moreover, the backlog of maintenance and repair work at many of our state parks is dangerously long, and continued delay only increases the mounting costs.
Fortunately, facilities that are 40 and 50 years old and in desperate need of repair will now get the attention they need.
As our state population continues to grow and become even more urban, it will be more important than ever to ensure that future generations have access to the native landscapes and wildlife that are such an important part of our Texan identity and heritage.
Because of the work of this Legislature, they will.
Our system of state and local parks is charged with the preservation and maintenance of our state’s natural and cultural assets.
These assets belong to the people of Texas, and they have an important impact on everyone who visits them, as well as the communities around them.
This summer, I encourage all Texans to get outside, take advantage of our parks and revel in the immense natural beauty and environment that make Texas a unique and wonderful place to call home.
Dan Allen Hughes Jr. is president of Dan A. Hughes Co. L.P. in Beeville and chairman of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission.