State Rep. Jim Keffer and his staff were still digesting Tuesday specific implications of the actions of the 80th Texas Legislature, but study wasn’t needed on the topic of Texas Parks and Wildlife appropriations.
“Fortunately, we were able to produce a parks and wildlife bill at the end,” Keffer said from Austin Tuesday afternoon. “It took a lot of hard work, and it was very, very complex. It goes to show how difficult passing legislation can be, even when everyone from the governor on down has agreed to it.”
Keffer said from a policy standpoint, the legislative session was a good one, as it did pass a budget that didn’t spend all the state’s anticipated revenue and tweaked the school property tax bill.
“That’s very important,” Keffer said. “We were trying to look down the the road.”
The legislature was required by law to close on Monday, and the House of Representatives worked up to the cutoff.
Brad Locker of Brownwood, a member of the State Parks Advisory Committee, told officials with the Brownwood Area Chamber of Commerce in an e-mail copied to the Bulletin that state parks received $156 million after lawmakers were asked to appropriate $170 million.
“In the game of legislative politics, that is a pretty good outcome,” Locker wrote. “Matter of fact, it is a great outcome, the result of which will begin to turn our Texas parks system around, so that our kids and grandkids will have something to enjoy and be proud of.”
Locker expressed his appreciation to Keffer and to George L. Bristol, president of the Texas Coalition for Conservation in Austin, for their efforts.
“The two main points of this is, first, we raised awareness,” Bristol said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “The people got it and the legislators got it. And even though we didn’t get everything the committee recommended, we did get $156 million, which for the first time for a major funding push in 17 to 18 years, that will get you in the hall of fame.”
Bristol said in the legislative session two years from now, parks supporters will be seeking the same kind of funding again.
“But the bar is raised,” he added. “This is a very good starting point. It’s not the cure-all, because this is really a 10-year effort to bring the parks back to where they need to be. And even then, it will take funds to maintain them, to grow and to serve new markets. You always have to systematically keep repairing things. But if you continue to do that, you don’t fall into the situation we have now that only costs taxpayers more money. I’m confident the legislature understands that. And let me say your representative, Jim Keffer, signed on early for the parks in 2005 and has kept with it.”
Bristol said more than 200 organizations, cities, counties and chambers of commerce along with numerous hunting, fishing and outdoors enthusiasts were involved in contacting their legislators.
He said flaws in the legislation include a reduced amount for land acquisition and development. Also, the part of the major repairs funding is in a bond package that must be taken to the voters in November. He said it should have been on a pay-as-you-go basis, or the legislature should have authorized the entire $250 million in a bond as recommended as the State Parks Advisory Committee.
Mike Krahn, superintendent of the Lake Brownwood State Park, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
“I’m very glad it’s over,” Keffer said of the 80th Texas Legislature. “It will be good to get back home, to get back to reality. Overall, though, policy-wise, it was a very good session…
“An historic cancer bill was passed, and I’m proud to be its author. The people will be looking at a constitutional amendment this November.” Voters will decide whether the state can borrow up to $3 billion to attract and fund cancer research projects in the state.
Keffer said House members’ efforts to take a vote to vacate the position of speaker of the house created additional stress in the closing days of the session. It complicated the legislative process as Speaker Tom Craddick blocked lawmakers’ attempts to work together, separating them to avoid having such a vote materialize.
“It was something that was out of the ordinary,” Keffer said.
Keffer was the first House member to announce he plans to challenge Craddick, but others have since also filed their candidacies.
“Today is the first day of that effort,” Keffer said.