Don't Spend That Budget Yet

Has the Lege really given out any more money in that megabudget? Even state agencies don't know.

When is a budget raise not a budget raise?

When you're the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Under its latest budget, the agency has $182 million extra for state and local parks. However, the guardians of Texas' wilderness have had their budgets slashed for years, including a 5% cut in 2006-'07, and while they're happy at the cash, it may not really mean any percentage increase.

"A percentage based on what?" said TPWD spokesman Tom Harvey. "The Legislature may be looking at the total budget, which includes lots of other stuff not directly related to operating the parks. This stuff always depends on how you look at the numbers."

The agency's finance officers are poring over the books, seeing whether the new requirements and one-off projects placed on them this session actually cancel out any raises. This all comes after the House Appropriations and Senate Finance Committee heard evidence about the TPWD budget that veered into farce. At one point, the agency was asking for help with transportation costs: They needed cash to buy old, unroadworthy cars off other agencies to cannibalize them for spare parts – in order to keep their own unroadworthy vehicles moving.

Speaking for Rep. Garnet Coleman, aide Philip Martin said, "A lot of the funding for state parks is one time. We're just in the situation where we're going to have to come back and fight for the parks in two years, and eventually if you just keep people coming back to fight, one time they'll give up."

Even that one-time funding is incomplete. Take the emergency repairs to the Battleship Texas. Legislators were told the last remaining floating World War I battleship urgently needed $50 million for repairs. This would move it from the waters at San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site in La Porte where it currently rusts and into a dry dock that will also be a massive tourist attraction. Rather than actually funding the project, the budget simply suggests a $25 million bond issue – half the sum required, which can still be rejected by voters in November.

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