The Houston Chronicle and the Tyler Morning Telegraph have provided useful summaries of what the parks funding bill that passed the legislature at the last minute actually contains. Here are a couple substantial excerpts, though if you care about Texas's parks, it is worth looking at the entire articles.
From the Morning Telegraph, May 31:
"It appears that we will receive more than 90 percent of what was recommended by the State Parks Advisory Committee and requested by TPWD's commissioners," George Bristol, president of the Texas Coalition for Conservation wrote to supporters.
According to Bristol's group, the department fell short $3.4 million in its request for transportation and equipment, $1 million in division support, $5.9 million in major repairs and $14 million in acquisition and development. The local park grants appropriation was $3.5 million less than requested. The department will receive almost double what was requested for Battleship Texas.
TPWD will also see an increase of $10 million in Texas Department of Transportation inter-departmental fund. That money will be used to improve state park roads. The last budget included $5 million.
In all, the department is expected to get about $180 million of its $195 million request.
But the good comes with restrictions and strings. According to a Texas Coalition for Conservation summary the major repairs are to be funded with bond money. The department has $17 million it can issue from an old bond program. The remaining $27 million must come from a new bond package that has to be approved by voters in November.
TCC had hoped Legislators would have approved a pay-as-you-go plan or, if requiring a bond package, authorize the entire amount needed for repairs in a single bond. Department officials have said that the peaks and valleys of having to repeat bond elections makes long-term planning for repairs more difficult.
Also $17 million of the $36 million appropriated for the local parks' fund has already been mandated to projects in select House districts and will not be required to go through the normal competitive bid process.
Actually new money for acquisition and development is only $4.3 million, and $2.5 million of that is mandated for purchasing land next to Palo Duro State Park. The remainder of the $13.9 million for land purchases will come from the sale of Eagle Mountain Lake State Park and several small parcels, leaving the department only enough money to buy one park designated west of Fort Worth and add several small areas to existing state parks.
The budget is also built around the department raising an additional $16 million in park user fees. Although the department doesn't have a plan outlined yet, there has been some talk that it may have to start charging youth an entrance fee.
From the Chronicle, June 3:
And no one at TPWD or in the Legislature believes this one-time increase in funding will address park problems that took decades to create.
For example, the agency's backlog of needed repairs to state parks — repairs necessitated by the wear from millions of visitors and years of deferred maintenance — is estimated to be $430 million.
To address that backlog, the agency would need the Legislature to appropriate for that purpose at least $40 million each year for 10 years.
"We had a tremendous short-term victory," Hilderbran, through a news release, said of the Legislature's actions on park funding. We secured record appropriations for the next two years; however, a long-term funding solution is unfinished business."