Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club consists
of over 24,000 members. The Chapter spans the
entire state of Texas, excepting El Paso, which
is part of the Rio Grande Chapter.
Located in Austin, the Lone Star Chapter's State Conservation Office
serves Sierrans as their grassroots communications center. We also provide
Sierrans with a full time professional activist staff employed to represent
Sierrans as we fight at the state level to protect and conserve Texas'
diverse and valuable natural heritage.
Sierra Club Addresses State Park Funding
Staff from the
Governor's Office of Budget, Planning & Policy and the
Legislative Budget Board conducted a hearing at the
State Capitol on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's
Legislative Appropriations Request (LAR) for Fiscal
Attached is a summary of the TPWD LAR for FY 2008/2009,
including the requests for "exceptional items" such
– the restoration of the 10% reductions requested by budget
– the additional parks funding request,
– and the appropriation of voter-approved bond money to TPWD
for park repairs.
Testifying in favor of additional funding for state and local
parks were Texas Parks and Wildlife Commissioner John Parker
from Lufkin and representatives of the Texas Coalition for
Conservation, Texans for State Parks, Texas Recreation & Parks
Society, the League of Women Voters of Texas, and the Lone
Star Chapter of the Sierra Club.
Ken Kramer presented the following statement on behalf of the Sierra Club and submitted into the record letters of support for additional parks funding from the Texas Committee on Natural Resources, National Wildlife Federation, and Environment Texas.
The Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, which represents over 24,000 members of the Sierra Club living throughout Texas, has adopted “a Texas Land Legacy” as one of its four conservation priorities for 2006/2007. The primary goal of this conservation priority is “a dependable source of funding for acquisition, maintenance, and management of Texas state & local parks to meet growing habitat preservation and recreation needs.”
This is not a new issue for the Sierra Club in Texas. When I first came to Austin to work professionally with the Club in 1982, one of our top state legislative priorities for the 1983 regular session was the extension of the dedication of funds for local parks, then financed by a penny per pack of cigarette tax money, that was scheduled to “sunset” in 1983.
Ironically that dedication of cigarette tax money at that time amounted to about $19 million per year for local parks, more than has been authorized for local park grants in recent years out of the sporting goods tax (and far more than was appropriated for that purpose this biennium). Working closely with the Texas Recreation and Park Society and other groups in 1982-1983, we succeeded in getting the local parks funding extended.
Over the years we fought efforts to slash funding for state parks in the mid 1980s due to a state revenue crunch at that time. We worked with The Nature Conservancy in the late 1980s to try to get a new funding mechanism for state and local parks through a real estate transfer fee, but we were unsuccessful due to heavy political opposition.
The Sierra Club in Texas supported the successful effort to move from the cigarette tax (then a declining revenue source) to the sporting goods tax as the foundation for state and local parks funding in the early 1990s. We worked unsuccessfully to get the cap on the sporting goods tax revenue allocated to parks lifted in the late 1990s.
We were one of the groups that pushed hard for the legislative proposal that went to the voters in 2001 as Prop 8 to provide bond money for major park repairs. Our members worked actively and successfully for the passage of that bond authorization by the voters.
In the last two legislative sessions we have been partners with the Texas Coalition for Conservation in promoting additional funding for parks in the face of serious revenue shortfalls for the state overall. Earlier this year we held a forum in Houston on the crisis in state parks funding, following the park budget cutbacks announced last December.
The Sierra Club has made this issue a priority for so long for several reasons: Our members use and enjoy state parks as well as local parks that have been made possible through state grants. Our members care passionately about the status and the future of these parks as resources for the economy and the health of the communities in which we live. Moreover, through the purchase of camping equipment and numerous other items we pay the sporting goods tax that now goes in part to fund state and local parks.
At the local level Sierra Club regional groups throughout the state conduct outings in state parks and in many local parks on a regular basis. For example, our “Inner City Outings” programs operated by the Austin, Dallas, and Houston Regional Groups of the Sierra Club take kids from inner city neighborhoods into the outdoors – often to state parks – to allow them to see and enjoy a world of nature beyond their everyday experiences.
In the past several years our state chapter of the Sierra Club has held statewide gatherings in a variety of Texas state parks – including but not limited to Mother Neff State Park, Caddo State Park, Brazos Bend State Park, Bastrop State Park, McKinney Falls State Park, and Dinosaur Valley State Park. We make use of these state parks because they are affordable venues for a grassroots nonprofit organization with a limited budget to conduct outdoor activities for members and others.
These state and local parks are community resources that go beyond just being “pretty places” and often a home for wildlife. The economic value of these parks to local areas has been recently documented. Perhaps even more important is the value of parks for our physical and mental well-being.
A recent book entitled “Last Child in the Woods” summarizes “a body of research indicating that direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development and for the physical and emotional health of children and adults.” The book directly links the absence of nature in many kids’ lives today to the rise in obesity, attention disorders, and depression.
As our population continues to grow and as fewer people have direct access to the farms and ranches that many of us were privileged to enjoy as kids growing up in Texas, it will become increasingly imperative that the state provide funding for more state and local parks to provide opportunities for outdoor experiences. More funds for parks now may help us avoid expenditures to deal with physical and mental health problems on a wider scale in the future.
Sierra Club members have a personal stake in the financing of parks through the sporting goods tax because we spend the money at the REI, Whole Earth, Academy, and other outdoor stores that generate much of the revenue for parks. We feel that it is logical and appropriate that tax revenue from such expenditures go to fund state and local parks where those sporting goods will be used, and we gladly pay taxes for those purposes.
We are now joined by numerous other organizations supporting increased funds for state and local parks. I have brought letters from several of those groups who join the Sierra Club in supporting especially the three highest ranked “exceptional items” in the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s LAR – restoration of the 10% reductions, – additional funding for state parks, – and the appropriation of Proposition 8 General Obligation Bonds.
The popular support for adequate state and local parks funding has never been higher. We urge your favorable consideration for this investment in our state’s future.
For an Summary of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Exceptional Items, click here.