As the hours tick down on this biennial session of the Texas legislature, the state house has devolved into chaos due to a renewed, so far unsuccessful, attempt to oust the current dictatorial GOP House Speaker, Tom Craddick. The Dallas Morning-News has more on last night's quite unusual events.
Meanwhile, though, the status of the bill to lift the cap on funding of state parks via the sales tax on sporting goods and the final total that our long neglected parks will receive over the next two years are both still up in the air.
State Rep. Harvey Hilderbran of Kerrville is lamenting that no one in the state Senate is championing parks, leaving that job up to him. (Jeff Wentworth, GOP senator from San Antonio and the hill country and presumed parks advocate, where are you?) From the San Antonio Express-News:
"I'm championing it here, and I champion it in the Senate, too," Hilderbran said about his efforts to lift the sporting goods tax cap on revenue that flows to state parks. "I'm going over there, bursting into meetings with the lieutenant governor and other people on other bills, saying, 'What in the hell's going on? You promised this.'"
More than 20 of the state's 31 senators originally signed on to legislation to remove the cap, but questions about the funding and a study of the revenue are dividing lawmakers.
"I'm confident that we are going to have an agreement that's going to be good for our park system," said Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, who is the Senate's chief negotiator for House Bill 12.
Lawmakers are proposing to increase the operating budget for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department from about $50 million to $157 million for the two-year budget cycle.
But $16 million of the increase is a "phantom," Hilderbran said, because it relies on such changes as charging scouting groups and church organizations admission into state parks. And an additional $74 million of the increase hinges on HB 12 passing, he said.
"So it's not quite as good as it sounds," Hilderbran said.
HB12 is the bill to lift the cap on funding via the sporting goods sales tax -- a variant of the original one co-sponsored by a huge majority in both the Senate and House. It passed the House virtually unanimously. It passed the Senate, but in an altered form that Hilderbran called "crummy" according to a report from the Texas Observer earlier this week. Now the differences need to be worked out in a conference committee, and there's only a couple days left to do so.
And with the House in chaos due to this last minute battle over the speakership, our parks may be left by the wayside yet again.