Perry Gets the Memo …

August 3rd, 2006

At TLCV we don’t take sides with political parties. We back Republicans who fight for conservation, and we’re plenty happy to smack around wrong-headed Democrats. So, you might think we’d give ol’ Rick an atta-boy for finally showing up on the parks funding issue.

Problem is, we don’t buy it. Perry’s been in state politics his entire adult life. He’s running to become the longest-serving governor in Texas history. And the parks system didn’t get driven into the dirt overnight. So, where has he been all this time?

Let’s review. Under Rick Perry’s tenure:

*We’re second to last in the nation for per capita parks spending – at $1.20 per person compared to the national average of $7.50.

*The “sporting goods tax” that’s supposed to fund parks was capped at a paltry $32 million more than a decade ago. And the state hasn’t even seen fit to actually appropriate all of that money.

*The state has stonewalled on using the $101 million bond issue that voters approved for parks in 2001.

The result? Cutbacks in services and hours of operation at almost 50 parks. Skeleton crew staffing, with another 73 jobs slashed this last year. Failing water and septic systems. Vehicles cannibalized and cobbled together like something out of Mad Max.

Seriously, folks. The Battleship Texas is patched together with freakin’ duct tape. It’s rusting through. …A ship that survived two world wars is quite literally in danger of being sunk by the yahoos now running the state.

But now Perry’s got religion. Fund those parks, hallelujah and amen, says Rick! Pretty easy to preach, we figure. If the Lege doesn’t come through, he can blame it on them. They hold the purse strings, right?

Now, to be fair, the parks crisis has been brewing since before Perry’s current 6 years in office. But holding statewide office is about leadership, setting priorities, and using your position in the bully-pulpit. We’ve seen Perry bully the legislature on things he’s cared about. We think a healthy dose of skepticism is warranted for a sudden declaration to fund parks in August of an election year.

And Perry just got done telling all his state agency heads – Parks and Wildlife Department included – to take 10 percent off the top of their budget requests for next year. …Let us know if you can square that one up with his parks pledge, because we sure can’t.

Someone who definitely warrants praise and encouragement is state Rep. Harvey Hildebrand, who has pledged to file another bill restoring funding for our parks. He filed a similar bill last session but it stalled and died in committee, suffering from, shall we say, a lack of leadership and commitment at the top. We’re also impressed with current Parks and Wildlife Chairman – and Perry appointee – Joseph Fitzsimons who has been long and strong with his cries for more state park funding.

Meanwhile – Kinky, Carole and Chris all piled on the parks train last week too – even going so far as to bat around some real ideas about how it ought to be done.In addition to raising the cap on the sporting goods tax, the Texas Progress Council floated the idea of using the enterprise fund (a.k.a. Perry’s Slush Fund) for a quick infusion. Kinky said he wouldn’t rule that out, “use it for anything,” he said, “as long as it’s not what it’s being used for now. … Having all these discretionary funds is not good for the governor.”

Carole “Grandma no-more” Strayhorn slammed Perry for a sell-off of 46,000 acres of Big Bend land that almost happened last year and for the current plan to auction off a different 25,000 chunk of West Texas parkland to a private Mexican corporation.

Chris Bell pushed the idea of actually spending the parks bond money, in addition to raising the sporting goods tax cap. To his credit, Bell is the only one in this crowd who was talking parks before the Me Too party started last week — check out his section on land conservation in his environmental platform.

Any way you look at it, you have to put a lot more stock in the three challengers’ commitment to parks than Perry’s. We’re glad he’s talking the talk. But so far, all we have right now is park system that only Haiti could be proud of.