By Erin Heffernan
GALVESTON — The headquarters at The Galveston Island State Park was meant to be temporary.
The Galveston County Daily News reports the aging building where administrators work is little more than a shed with a leaky ceiling and failing water pipes.
But park officials consider themselves lucky. Unlike other state parks in Texas, the park will receive $10.7 million for upgrades in late 2017 from BP’s restoration fund created in response to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
“Until then we are just waiting it out with limited resources,” park Superintendent Trey Goodman said. “There is a light at the end of the tunnel for us. A lot of parks don’t have that.”
As the Legislature debates funding for Texas’ more than 90 state parks, Goodman and other park officials know many future park decisions are at stake.
The Texas Parks & Wildlife Department has requested some $200 million in additional funds for the next two years, which officials say will address infrastructure projects that have been deferred for years, development of land and prevent park closures.
“We’re running from crisis to crisis in terms of trying to put duct tape and bailing wire on a problem that needs a whole lot more,” Carter Smith, executive director of the department said in February during a hearing before the House Culture, Recreation and Tourism Committee.
The funding decision will shape Galveston Island State Park’s ability to maintain staff and infrastructure until the 2017 renovations and may determine if the park will be able to maintain staff to manage the park after the expansion, Goodman said.
“As it is now, I don’t know if I will have to make cuts in staff from year-to-year,” Goodman said. “You never know if the funding is going to be up or down. It’s hard to plan.”
Texas’ state parks collect revenue from entrance and campsite fees, but state parks in Texas are largely dependent on state funding.
That funding, department officials say, has been unpredictable and insufficient for long-term planning and park maintenance.
The funding is tied to the state’s tax revenue from the sale of sporting goods. In 1993, a statute mandated that 94 percent of the sales tax revenue generated from the sale of sporting goods go to parks and wildlife, which runs the state parks.
The Legislature has the final say on how much of that revenue it will appropriate each session. Since the measure passed, the state has appropriated only 36 percent of the more than $2 billon in sporting goods tax, according to TPWD.
Bills filed in the Legislature would mandate that the full 94 percent of the tax revenue go to state parks.
Park advocates are supporting a proposed amendment to the Texas Constitution that would permanently give 94 percent of the sporting goods tax to the parks. If approved, the amendment would go to a public vote in November.
This session, TPWD has requested more than $200 million in additional funds, including more than $75 million for capital construction projects and modernization, $18 million for fishery management and $25 million for critical repairs to Battleship Texas in La Porte.
Goodman said locals should realize that the park’s impact goes beyond access to natural spaces.
“People have to realize — there is a lot of value here,” Goodman said. “Even if they never set foot in the park, it is important.”