Texas might have to close 20 of its 95 state parks unless the Legislature approves $18.9 million in additional funding, wildlife officials said.
The additional money is part of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s (TPWD) request for $507.1 million over the next two years, plus an additional $103 million to restore previous cuts, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.
Brent Leisure, the department’s director, said some parks would have to be closed unless lawmakers approved the $18.9 million spending boost, because the department has cut costs by laying off staff and reducing park operating hours.
“You can reduce operations in some way to save money, but we’ve already done that,” he said.
The Legislative Budget Board was expected to release its budget recommendations on Monday. Although State Comptroller Susan Combs projected that there will be $101.4 billion in general-purpose revenue for the 2014-2015 period, which would be about 30% more than in the current two-year budget, state officials have said they will not make big spending increases.
Leisure said decisions about park closures would wait until the financial picture became clearer. Even if parks must be closed, the state would still have to maintain them, he said.
“We couldn’t just simply walk away from them,” Leisure said.
After years of underfunding and a growing public outcry over the declining condition of Texas’ state parks, the department saw a boost in funding during 2006 but faced more cuts during the economic downturn of 2011.
Extreme summer temperatures in 2011 cut into park attendance and contributed to costly and damaging wildfires in some parks.
The 95 parks under the department supervision comprise a combined area of 625,000 acres of forests, prairies, mountains, deserts and beaches. The financial problems led the Parks Department to issue a public plea for assistance in 2011 that brought in about $2 million and helped it close a $4.6 budget gap.
Some officials and citizens like Ralph Duggins, a Fort Worth attorney and vice chairman of the Texas Wildlife Commission, have called for the Legislature to give the park system the revenue collected by a 1993 tax on outdoors sporting goods.