TPWD 2014 Budget Reflects Legislative Support
Funding to keep Texas State Parks open and provide grants for city and county parks, millions to aid the declining bobwhite quail and its grassland habitat, fisheries funding that benefits water resources, and dollars for conservation law enforcement are among the highlights of the 2014 budget approved today by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission.
"Barring any catastrophic event like a hurricane, extreme drought or a wildfire, the state budget adopted by lawmakers means that no state parks will close due to lack of funding in the next two years," said Carter Smith, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department executive director. "Further, the legislature also funded many of the critical requests for the fisheries and wildlife side of our business. We appreciate very much this support from state elected leaders for parks and conservation."
The department's fiscal year 2014 operating and capital budget totals about $380 million, including about $272 million for salaries, related benefits and operating expenses, about $30 million for grants and close to $75 million for capital items such as construction and computers.
The 2014 budget is an increase from the 2013 budget of $357 million, but still below the $423 million for 2011. The state budget bill also increased TPWD's employee count by 103 full time equivalent (FTE) positions, to a total FTE cap of 3,109 employee positions for 2014.
The budget reflects overall funding approved by legislators in the state General Appropriations Act for the 2014-2015 biennium, which authorized additional funding requested by the agency in six exceptional items. That included, in two-year totals:
--For TPWD's first exceptional item requesting about $18.9 million for state park operations, the final state budget included close to $17.9 million.
--For the request for $11.9 million for capital budget priorities such as replacement vehicles and computers, the state budget included $10.4 million.
--For the request for $40 million for capital repairs and construction, the budget included $8 million for Fund 9/fisheries and wildlife facility capital construction and $11 million in bonds for repairs at any existing TPWD facility.
--The budget provided TPWD's entire request for $13 million for important fish and wildlife funding. This includes $4 million for quail habitat enhancement.
--The budget also included all of TPWD's request for $15.5 million for local park grants to cities and counties across Texas.
--Regarding the request for $3.7 million for state data center cost increases and Information Technology needs, the budget provided a net total of about $1 million (after adjusting for across the board data center reductions made elsewhere).
Lawmakers also provided other funding for the department, including (in biennial totals):
--Rider 27 allows the agency to carry forward up to $5.5 million from 2013 into 2014. It also provides increased appropriations of up to $2 million, if the agency is able to bring in revenue above the Comptroller's Biennial Revenue Estimate from sources such as state park fees and hunting and fishing license sales.
--Rider 41 provides $2 million over two years for an inter-agency contract with Texas A&M University to help a species in decline: bobwhite quail. This will develop educational resources and programs to reestablish quail populations based on research-proven best management practices, plus fund various quail research efforts. In addition, as described above, lawmakers appropriated another $4 million in exceptional item funding for quail habitat enhancement, making a total of $6 million for quail in 2014-2015.
--Other riders will fund $700,000 in capital construction for cabins, bridges and trails at Fort Boggy State Park and visitor center improvements at Big Spring State Park.
--Rider 10 appropriates an estimated $1 million over the next two years expected to come from sales of four TPWD conservation license plates (horned lizard, bluebonnet, deer and bass) that benefit state parks and fisheries and wildlife work. Since inception, the specialty license plates have raised more than $6.3 million for conservation causes.
--Lawmakers also allocated $5.2 million to replace a damaged helicopter needed for game warden operations and fish and wildlife survey work.
During the session, legislators also approved supplemental funding for TPWD using 2013 dollars. This includes $5 million for state park capital repairs, close to $4.9 million for Bastrop State Park wildfire recovery, and $889,000 in state park operating funding from motor vehicle registration opt-in donations approved in the previous legislative session.