Voters to decide on funding for Texas state parks in November

By Sarah Acosta - Reporter, Robert Samarron - Photojournalist

SAN ANTONIO - The future of how much funding Texas state parks can receive will be in the hands of Texas voters in November.

Fourteen of those parks are in the area surrounding San Antonio.

Gov. Greg Abbott recently signed a bill that lets voters decide on an amendment to the Texas Constitution that would allow state parks and historic sites to receive full funding from a portion of a sporting goods tax.

”No one wants to go to a trashy park,” said Joshua Epstein, a hiker at Government Canyon State Natural Area.

Epstein and Theo Cupper say they visit surrounding area state parks at least once a week for hiking. Both say they support more funding for state parks. 

“For us to have somebody to steadily come out and clean would be amazing,” Cupper said.

More funding is something the Texas Coalition for State Parks said the 95 state parks need. 

In 1993, a state law was passed that directed 94% of a portion of sales tax from sporting goods to go toward state parks. The other 6% is supposed to fund the 22 historical sites Texas maintains.

If you buy a kayak or football in Texas, part of that tax money goes toward state parks and historical sites.

Last year, $333.5 million was collected from a portion of the sporting goods tax.

There is a problem with this law, however.

The coalition says that every session, legislators must set aside that money for state parks. Currently, on average, about 40% of the money collected goes toward parks. But that can change.

Abbott recently signed Senate Bill 26, which lets voters decide if all of that money would automatically go to Texas parks and historical sites instead of having to share with other departments.

“Instead of lawmakers taking that money and using it for other things, we want to make sure it's always going to the parks so the parks can plan ahead,” said Jenifer Sarver, spokesperson of the Texas Coalition for State Parks.

Sarver said this will help Texas parks with their budgets.

One of the challenges state parks face is with bathrooms. The coalition said most state park bathrooms are over 20 years old and need updates or simply more of them.

And the number of visitors to the parks is high. The coalition said there were 10 million visitors in 2017. In 2009, there were 7.4 million visitors. 

Sarver said in order to keep up with the larger number of visitors, the parks depend on more funding.

“Without the resources to handle crowd control and to create different amenities, like we need new trails and updated bathrooms and updated visitor centers to handle all those new Texans coming in to visit,” Sarver said.

There is even one park that has never been opened because of funding: Kronkosky State Natural Area, just northwest of San Antonio. 

There are also two historic sites in San Antonio that would benefit from this funding: Casa Navarro State Historic Site and the Landmark State Historic Site.

Breakdown:

Senate Bill 26 allows voters to decide whether the amendment to the state Constitution will be changed.

This is considered a state constitutional amendment election.

Texas voters will be voting on 10 amendments to the Texas constitution on Nov. 5.

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