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Proposition 8 will give a big boost to state parks, youth and outdoors

On my annual visit to the Texas Parks and Wildlife sponsored Texas Wildlife Expo, I learned a lot about what our state is doing to preserve our outdoor way of life.

Millions of Texans who love state parks, hunting and fishing are counting on it, as are thousands of deaf and blind students, victims of drug-resistant tuberculosis and wayward youth. Hundred of local police forces need it, as do thousands of soldiers and airmen in the Texas National Guard.

“It is Proposition 8, one of 19 constitutional amendments Texas voters will consider on November 6. The measure would authorize up to $850 million in general obligation bonds for 13 state agencies. It would also help city police and county sheriffs across Texas buy vehicle video cameras to combat racial profiling.

Proposition 8 would repair or improve state parks, prisons, hospitals, schools, and youth and military facilities. The real story behind Proposition 8 isn’t the buildings: it’s the millions of people they serve. For many of the agencies involved, it is their first bond issue. The main focus is “deferred maintenance;’ long-neglected repairs or improvements.

“This is the hard money,” said Andrew Samson, TPW executive director, and veteran of past bond issues for agency repairs. “It’s like the preacher who finds it easy to raise money for a new stained glass window, but hard to find donors for plumbing repairs. Still, everyone agrees that when the toilets don’t work, you’ve got a real problem.”

A bond is like a low interest loan, explains Kim Edwards, Texas Public Finance Authority executive director. The government sells bonds to investors, then over time pays them back with interest.

“The unique and positive thing about Proposition 8 is that state leaders made a concerted effort to fund deferred maintenance acknowledging that you shouldn’t spend money on new facilities without maintaining the ones you already have,” said Edwards, who pointed out that $850 million only amounts to 0.7% of the entire Texas government budget of $114 billion for 2001-03.

“As a citizen, I look at this as good insurance for the future,’ said Edwards. “Just like you change the oil in your car and the air conditioning filter in your house, spending a little now will provide more money for new projects later instead of more expensive remediation for facilities in serious decline.”

“For Texas Parks and Wildlife, Proposition 8 represents the largest bond Issue in our history,” said Andrew Sansom. He noted that it would provide up to $100 million over the next six years for repairs and improvements to TPW state parks, wildlife management areas and fish hatcheries.
Proposition 8 would fund a few new projects. In Northeast Houston, it includes $2.5 million to build the Sheldon Lake environmental Education Center to offer hands-on education for inner city school children, using former fish hatchery wetlands as a giant natural classroom. In San Antonio and the Lower Rio Grande Valley, it would replace 50-year-old state hospitals that can’t be renovated. This includes Texas’ last public hospital operated solely to treat tuberculosis and Hensen’s disease (leprosy) in San Antonio and two new outpatient facilities in the Lower Rio Grande Valley to treat tuberculosis, diabetes, and other ailments among lower-income residents in a four-county area.

People in every region of Texas would feel the effects of Proposition 8. Since it would repair 35 state office buildings managed by the Texas Building and Procurement Commission it would help almost every state agency, as almost all agencies are TBPC tenants. Directly involved are the Texas Youth Commission, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, Texas Parks and Wildlife, Texas Buying and Procurement Commission, Texas Historical Commission, Texas Department of Public Safety, Texas School for the Deaf, Texas School for the Blind, State Preservation Board, Adjutant General’s Department — Texas National Guard, Texas Department of Health, and Texas Department of Agriculture.
Voters may be confused because the Proposition 8 language does not mention any of the state agencies involved, and there are four other bond proposals on the ballot. The Proposition 8 ballot language will read, “The constitution amendment authorizing issuance of up $850 million in bonds payable from the general revenues of the state for construction and repair projects and for the purchase of needed equipment.”

Any registered voter can vote at local polling precincts from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. on November 6. However, Texans can also vote early from October 22-November 2 at special early voting locations. Check with your local county clerk or election administrator for early voting details in your county.

Details about Proposition 8 are on the Internet at www.proposition8.org.

I realize that November 6 falls during the first week of the regular deer season, but you can bet that for the future of our state parks, hunting, and fishing, I will be at a polling place to cast my vote for Proposition 8.