State parks have been under attack in the legislature this session, and they need your help. A few legislators bent on asserting control over parks or teaching them a lesson have been introducing multiple bills in both houses, and others in the majority party have been piling on.
While their real target may be the governor, who is creating new parks, the bills would do real damage to existing parks, gravely hobble the acquisition of new parkland, and in the process hurt the citizens and economies of their own districts.
That is on top of the massive damage already done last May, when the general assembly removed $40 million for infrastructure rehabilitation in parks statewide from the first major bond issue for state buildings since the mid-1980s and refused to re-appropriate another $15 million previously authorized.
Here are some of the current bills:
• HB 2187, which requires the state to sell some 4,200 acres along the Eleven Point River acquired for a new park using settlement funds from lead mining damages, passed the house and is now in the senate. A similar bill, SB 1011, has been voted “do pass” from a senate committee.
• SB 682, which has passed the senate, requires public notice and local hearings prior to any proposed land acquisition—mandates that may impact the state’s ability to acquire the land or negotiate a fair price. Several other bills would prevent any land acquisition, even by donation or bequest, without approval by concurrent resolution of both houses.
• SB 683, which removes the normal property tax exemption from all real estate in state parks, has been voted “do pass” from a senate committee. MPA strongly supports the current payments in lieu of taxes for five years while new parks are being developed, after which studies have shown that parks result in some $26 in regional economic activity and taxes for every dollar expended. by the state.
• HJR 101, a similar bill just introduced and heard in the house, is even more troublesome: it proposes a constitutional amendment to repeal the Parks, Soils, and Water Sales Tax and replace it with a new version that requires payment of property tax. This would create massive public confusion in a year in which the tax, on which the parks are utterly dependent for operations and maintenance, is up for renewal by voters statewide.
• HB 2047 would allow motorized vehicles up to five feet wide and weighing up to a ton to be used on the Katy Trail on Wednesdays by anyone over age 60. It was just voted out of committee, despite the firestorm raised about ATVs by the trail-loving public when the bill was initially heard.
• In a budget bill (HB 2006) passed by the house and now in the senate, the park director’s salary was zeroed out, as was about $1.6 million in core funding for operations at Echo Bluff and other parks, including the Huston Tavern at Arrow Rock and marinas at Lake of the Ozarks and Long Branch.
An amendment offered on the house floor to cut the entire administrative staff of DNR in half (about $4 million for 42 positions) as punishment for their involvement in the new state parks was narrowly defeated on a roll-call vote.
Capitol watchers seem to think the house majority will pass any anti-park measure brought forward. Certain bills could possibly die or be turned back in the senate, though some will likely pass. If so, they could be vetoed by the governor, but with veto-proof majorities in both houses there would certainly be an effort to override.
It is critical to respectfully let your legislators know what you think about this attack on state parks.
At the very least, email or call their office in the capitol so your message will be waiting when they return. To find your legislators, go to www.senate.mo.gov/LegisLookup/Default.aspx
Missouri State Parks