GUADALUPE RIVER STATE PARK, Texas - There's a special fund of sales tax money that you pay into that is supposed to be just for state parks. The state legislature has been taking that money and using it for other things.
The Guadalupe River State Park north of San Antonio offers visitors a lot of scenic beauty. However, the park facilities are showing their age: playground equipment that hasn't been replaced in 30 years, outdated restrooms with poor plumbing, and camp sites washed away by rain and heavy use.
Park Superintendent Scott Taylor says he just hasn't had the money to make repairs in recent years.
“A lot of our infrastructure has reached its life expectancy, and so funding is needed to go in and either repair or replace a lot of those facilities,” Taylor says.
Why are Texas parks so strapped for cash? By state law every time you purchase sporting goods the sales tax is set aside in a special fund to pay for park improvements. The state comptroller estimates that fund will bring in $128-million this year.
The problem is in recent years the legislature has taken more and more of that park money and used it to cover shortfalls in the budget.
The original intention was for 94% of that sporting goods sales tax money to flow to state parks, but the legislature has diverted most of it, and parks are receiving only 25% to 30% of the funds.
Now some lawmakers, including State Representative Lyle Larson, want to change that.
“I've got a bill along with Senator Estes that is going to stop the diversion and fully fund the park system with the tax that's being collected,” Larson says.
That would be a welcome change for Scott Taylor, who's trying to keep up with the increase of visitors looking for a more affordable vacation.
One state senator has called for a constitutional amendment to prevent lawmakers from diverting any money intended for a specific purpose. In the past they've also taken money from funds that were supposed to be dedicated for roads, air quality and hospital trauma centers.