* Correction appended.
Texas Parks and Wildlife officials, along with outdoor enthusiasts, are looking to lock in funding for the state’s parks during November’s constitutional amendment elections.
Should it pass, Proposition 5 will change the Texas Constitution so that money generated from the existing sales tax on sporting goods can be given only to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Texas Historical Commission.
Texas' parks were initially funded by a penny tax on cigarettes, but the Texas Legislature passed a law in 1993 allowing all of the sporting goods sales tax revenues to be used for the upkeep and expansion of parks and historical sites.
In the last two bienniums, the Texas Legislature appropriated between 89% and 100% of the sporting goods sales tax revenue to TPWD, but historically much of the revenue has been used to balance the state budget, according to state Rep. John P. Cyrier, R-Lockhart, who pushed the initial legislation.
Voting in Texas
When was the last day to register to vote?
The deadline to register to vote in the 2020 general election was Oct. 5. Check if you’re registered to vote here. If not, you’ll need to fill out and submit an application, which you can request here or download here.
When can I vote early?
Early voting for the 2020 general election runs from Oct. 13 to Oct. 30. Voters can cast ballots at any polling location in the county where they are registered to vote during early voting. Election Day is Nov. 3.
How will voting be different because of the pandemic?
In general, polling locations will have guidelines in place for social distancing and regular cleaning. Several counties will offer ballot marking devices so voters avoid contact with election equipment. Poll workers will likely be wearing face masks and other protective equipment, but masks will not be required for voters.
How do I know if I qualify to vote by mail?
Texas is one of just a few states that hasn’t opened up mail-in voting to any voter concerned about getting COVID-19 at a polling place. You can find eligibility requirements and review other questions about voting by mail here.
Are polling locations the same on Election Day as they are during early voting?
Not always. You’ll want to check for open polling locations with your local elections office before you head out to vote. Additionally, you can confirm with your county elections office whether Election Day voting is restricted to locations in your designated precinct or if you can cast a ballot at any polling place.
Can I still vote if I have COVID-19?
Yes. If you have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or are exhibiting symptoms, consider requesting an emergency mail-in ballot or using curbside voting. Contact your county elections office for more details about both options.
See our voter guide
Have you run into hurdles or problems while trying to vote in Texas? We want your help in reporting on those challenges. Tell The Texas Tribune your voting story.
The Texas Coalition for State Parks, a conservationist group created to push the amendment, estimates that the parks received on average about $34 million from an average tax revenue of $95 million before 2017.
“For too long, state lawmakers have entrusted the hardworking leaders and personnel of our state parks system with a very important job but did not give them the resources they needed to accomplish it,” Cyrier said in a statement.
Environment Texas, a nonprofit promoting green environmental policy, has been touring the state parks leading up to the Nov. 5 vote to raise awareness for the proposition. Executive director Luke Metzger said the parks have intangible benefits like promoting tourism in Texas and maintaining clean water supplies for cities.
Proposition 5 “would make good on the promise made to Texans in 1993. It’s just as much about truth in taxation as it is about protecting parks,” Metzger said. “Every state legislator will say they support the parks. But when there’s an economic downturn, parks are one of the first things to get cut. That’s why Proposition 5 is so important, to provide stable funding so [the parks] are not on this roller coaster of funding and subject to the politics of the state legislature.”
State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, who supported the amendment alongside Cyrier, said that until recent sessions, about 40% of the revenue from the sporting goods tax was usually allocated for TPWD. In a statement, Kolkhorst said that additional funding would go toward maintenance and repairs for the parks.
"Supporting our state parks and historic sites is an investment in our future and provides a gateway to the outdoors for every Texan. This legislation passed with bipartisan support because it is about delivering more maintenance and improvements to these sites, which in turn adds capacity for more visitors,” Kolkhorst said.
According to Rodney Franklin, director of state parks at TPWD, the parks have a combined $800 million in deferred maintenance, which has been exacerbated by an increase in traffic and an estimated $50 million in damage from Hurricane Harvey. Underfunding has limited the agency’s ability to prevent small issues from becoming larger and more costly.
“Nearly 80% of state parks were developed more than 30 years ago, with dozens of those established 70 or more years ago. Not surprisingly, basic facilities at state parks across the state have reached, or are rapidly approaching, the end of their design life,” Franklin said.
Texas Coalition for State Parks spokesperson Jenifer Sarver said deferred maintenance translates to broken bathrooms, long lines and reduced visitor capacity. However, she said, the parks have a $900 million economic benefit beyond their recreational impact.
“When people come to a park in West Texas, they’re not just paying an entrance fee, they’re going to be buying gas … and they’re going to pay to stay in hotels to attend the park,” Sarver said. “If a park has to close, it’s the equivalent of a manufacturing plant. It’s economically devastating.”
According to Cyrier, TPWD has received donated land that cannot be developed into state parks because of a lack of capital. Cyrier also said there is a generation of Texans who can't experience the outdoors due to the growth of metropolitan areas. Sarver said underfunding has limited the expansion of state parks and narrowed access to natural sites.
“Texas is an increasingly urban state, so you have limited outdoor space. Texas is also vastly privately owned, so unless you’re a wealthy landowner, you don’t have access to the land. … If [people] can’t appreciate the land, it’s hard for them to understand what it means to be a Texan,” Sarver said.
The passage of the proposition will not issue immediate funding to Texas Parks and Wildlife. The revenue generated from the tax will still need to be appropriated in the 2021 legislative session.
Proposition 5 is one of 10 proposals on the Nov. 5 ballot. Early voting starts Monday and runs through Nov. 1. Texans can visit votetexas.gov to verify registration and polling locations.
Editor's Note: We want your help in reporting on the challenges Texans face when trying to vote — and the possible ways to address them. Tell us about the hurdles or problems you’ve run into while trying to exercise your right to vote in Texas by filling out a short form or email our reporter, Alexa Ura, directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Disclosure: Jenifer Sarver, Environment Texas, Texas Historical Commission and Texas Parks and Wildlife have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Jenifer Sarver's name.