State Sen. Tan Parker R-Flower Mound, center, is joined by conservative businessman Doug Deason and Progress Texas director Kathleen Thompson during an Oct. 3 press conference to raise awareness of a Nov. 7 ballot measure for state parks funding. Photo by Haley Samsel | Fort Worth Report.
BY HALEY SAMSEL, FORT WORTH REPORT
Nov. 3, 2023
Standing behind a podium of Yeti coolers, state Sen. Tan Parker was surrounded by environmental advocates and a prominent conservative businessman. With just a month to go before the Nov. 7 constitutional amendments election, the Flower Mound Republican urged Texans to vote “yes” to Proposition 14 and establish a $1 billion fund to acquire land for new state parks.
“The splendor of our parks is not self-sustaining. As our state grows, many of our cherished parks face the pressures of time and increased visitation,” Parker, who authored the amendment, said. “If we wish to see our parks flourish for another century, they must be equipped to evolve with the needs of a growing Texas.”
The Oct. 3 press conference inside a Dallas REI store was part of an awareness campaign led by the bipartisan Texas Coalition for State Parks. More than 90 groups, including Friends of the Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge and the Fort Worth-based Great Plains Restoration Council, have signed on to the coalition’s mission of passing Proposition 14.
The proposal, which coincides with the 100th anniversary of Texas Parks and Wildlife, is among 14 constitutional amendments that legislators approved to be on the ballot this November.
A nonpartisan event was also held Oct. 5 at the Texas A&M School of Law. Sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Tarrant County, the Fort Worth Report and the law school, speakers aimed to translate each proposed amendment into plain language and explain its impact.
The event provided voters with an opportunity to engage with subject matter experts and get their questions answered, said Angela Rainey, the president of League of Women Voters of Tarrant County.
“It’s important for us to always provide unbiased information so voters are informed and aware of ballot measures, providing them explanations with the pros and the cons, and educating voters so they’re informed when they show up at the polls,” Rainey said.
If passed, several of the proposed amendments would create new funding for water infrastructure, broadband internet access, gas-fueled power plants and higher education research.
Another category of amendments focus on taxes. Voters will have their say on whether to increase the homestead exemption from $40,000 to $100,000, ban the Legislature from imposing “wealth taxes” without voter approval and create tax exemptions for medical equipment and childcare facilities.
The remaining amendments address cost-of-living raises for retired teachers, the retirement age for judges and the regulation of farming and ranching practices on the city and state level.
Voter turnout in odd-numbered years is historically low in Texas, with only about 9% of registered voters casting a ballot in the 2021 constitutional amendment election. Often, voters don’t quite understand the proposals or the impact they can have on people’s lives, Rainey said.
“My ideal outcome is they ultimately leave with a better understanding and it inspires them to go to the polls and take that information to galvanize their friends and family — not just keeping that information to themselves,” Rainey said.
Members of the Texas Coalition for State Parks are hoping to drive people to the polls with a new advertisement, voiced by country star and native Texan Kacey Musgraves, set for release next week.
Visitorship to state parks rose sharply during and after the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, straining resources and forcing visitors to book their trips months in advance, said Andrea Laureano, a campaign associate for Environment Texas.
“But it’s not just about good times,” Laureano said. “Our state parks also guard our precious waterways and wildlife habitats.”
Research by Laureno’s group found that Texas ranks 35th in the country for state park acreage per capita, with less than 5% of land in government hands and available for public use. That reality is coinciding with rapid population growth and land development across the state’s urban centers, including Fort Worth.
Voters overwhelmingly approved a 2019 constitutional amendment to dedicate all sporting goods tax revenue to Texas Parks and Wildlife and the Texas Historical Commission, fueling a boom in revenue for delayed maintenance and the upcoming opening of Palo Pinto Mountains State Park halfway between Fort Worth and Abilene.
Now Parker and his allies are hoping voters will support the state parks system again Nov. 7.
“It's not just checking another box,” Parker said. “It's an endorsement of the centennial parks fund, which represents a landmark $1 billion investment in our future generations, ensuring that they, like us, will be blessed with rich landscapes to cherish.”
Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. You can reach them at email@example.com.
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