AUSTIN – Local parks would get zero funding under the latest version of the state budget, according to parks advocates at a news conference on the Capitol grounds this past Thursday. The group called on budget writers to restore funding for the program as they reconcile the budgets passed by the House and Senate.
“From your kids swimming at the neighborhood swimming pool to bringing your family to a fireworks display for the fourth of July, our local parks and recreation programs provide opportunities for families to connect, interact and share important experiences,” said Rick Atkins, director of Parks and Recreation for the city of Round Rock. “State grants have played a critical role in developing parks since 1979, but now the Legislature may provide no money at all for local parks for the second session in a row.”
In 2011, the Legislature suspended funding for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Local Park Grant Programs, which provide matching funds assistance to Texas’ local governments for the acquisition and development of local park and recreation sites, facility development and outreach programs. In the past, these grants have been made from dedicated revenues from sporting goods sales taxes.
The current bill (SB 1) restores much of the funding for state parks, but it places the local parks grant program as a second priority at the amount of $15.5 million for the biennium. This means it is currently not funded but still could be added by a conference committee of Senate and House budget negotiators. That committee has not yet been named.
“Our local parks are supposed to be funded in part from sales taxes on sporting goods, but the Legislature is choosing once again to withhold this funding,” said Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas. “Our state is growing by leaps and bounds, and we need to keep up with demand for parks, playgrounds and swimming pools. To attract talented workers for our growing economy, we need to ensure a strong quality of life.”
Since 1979, Texas Parks and Wildlife Local Park Grant Programs have invested more than $390.2 million (matching funds) grant dollars in 1,630 projects throughout the state to provide close to home parks, recreation and conservation experiences for Texans. In Travis County, recent grant recipients include programs to get foster families in the great outdoors, to teach kids to canoe, and to redevelop Auditorium Shores.
The parks advocates cited the many benefits of local parks, including:
- Offering resources for health and exercise that can be found in few other places, and are often more affordable alternatives to promote healthy living and reduce soaring health care costs;
- Protecting water resources and bettering air quality; and
- Increasing local tax revenue due to tourism and special events.
“Texas kids and families deserve thriving neighborhood parks,” said Rep. Mike Villarreal. “Parks bring our communities together and help us stay healthy. It’s time for the state to invest in local parks.”