The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is grappling with a tight budget and millions of dollars in backlogged park maintenance. In order to balance the budget, the legislature has repeatedly reallocated funds initially designated to the state parks department. How will you approach funding for our state parks?
The commitment of everyday Texans’ to preserving our land, waterways and natural resources is unmatched and it’s time for our lawmakers to commit themselves to preserving our sacred lands. This starts with recognizing the importance of honestly funding our state parks and public lands. While our state’s budget remains tight, and always will, I believe lawmakers should find ways to ensure dedicated state park funding streams stay with our state parks.
A good starting place would be to reevaluate the diversion from the sporting goods sales tax. Years ago lawmakers decided that money collected from the sporting goods tax would be used to fund our state parks and state historical sites. Instead, much of the money collected by the state has been diverted from its intended purpose. My friend and former Chair of the Texas State Parks Advisory Committee, George Bristol, told the Texas Tribune earlier this year that only 36% of funds from the sporting goods sales tax has gone to state parks and historical sites since the tax went into effect in 1993. We should look at how that money is being diverted and find a way to ensure our state parks are getting their fair share.
Our state lawmakers must find flexibility to make crucial budget decisions, but we also must honor our commitment and promises to Texans. Diverting the majority of a sales tax away from its intended purpose is dishonest. Together state lawmakers must decide how we can openly and honestly allocate our tax dollars to cover the needs of all Texans.
First, I just want to say – what a fantastic question. As you know, environmental protection is one of my key platform initiatives, so this issue is near and dear to me. But even so, I’ve never been asked specifically about our Texas parks before. I’m so glad groups in North Texas are focusing on this important issue!
However, this question is ultimately a question about our state budget, which is a crucial overarching crux in any initiative any candidate or elected official wants to implement. Our predicted state budget is not enough to fund the basic needs of Texas as it is, and we have still had budget shortfalls in the billions. We spend millions on things we don’t need, like $800 million more for a border wall despite a significantly reduced number of people crossing the border, and we create further budget shortfalls for ourselves by introducing things like gun tax subsidies, which the public was not asking for. We also participate in too much corporate welfare and give billions in unnecessary grants and tax subsidies to companies which don’t need them to thrive in this state.
Importantly, healthcare is our biggest cost. According to the Texas Comptroller in 2014, Texas eats $5.5 billion in uncompensated healthcare costs. Texas maintains the highest rate of uninsured citizens in the United States – roughly 4.5 million Texans don’t have health insurance. This is not only morally wrong, but also hugely expensive.
The easiest thing we can do to balance our budget and help fund things like our Texas Parks and Wildlife would be to expand medicaid. This would boost our budget right away by an estimated $6 billion, but it would additionally and most importantly boost our income for Texan workers by $16.8 billion, increase our retail sails by $7.2 billion, increase our tax revenues by $525 million, and add roughly 303,000 jobs – annually. Not only would this expansion immediately inject a boost to our budget, but would have the overarching and important effect of boosting our economy organically. Texans don’t like handouts – we like to work for ourselves and pay our way. This expansion would allow us be our best selves and help us to do that.
Our Parks and Wildlife, just like our schools, our roads, and hospitals, need to be properly funded to be the best Texas we can be. I’ll always put in the sweat to help however I can on the small scale, but overall our budget will only improve if Texans start working together.