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June 4th, 2007:

An overview of parks funding

One of the big things the Lege did accomplish this time around was to provide more funding for state parks, both in terms of removing a cap on the amount of revenue from the sporting goods tax that could be appropriated to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, then actually appropriating a greater amount to TPWD. Chron outdoors writer Shannon Tompkins did a good summary of what parks bill HB12 and the budget did:

  • TPWD will see an increase of $25.6 million in funding for park operations and authority to increase parks division staff by 229 employees. Over the past couple of years, as funding problems became more severe, TPWD had reduced park staff by more than 100.
  • The agency stands to lose about 60 parks staffers in a Legislature-mandated transfer of 18 historic sites (and their staff) currently in the state parks division. The 18 sites will be transferred to the Texas Historical Commission.
  • The THC also will receive about $6 million a year in sporting goods sales tax revenue to operate the transferred sites.

  • The Legislature appropriated as much as $44.1 million for major repairs to state parks. About $17 million of that is bond money Texas voters had approved for that purpose in 2001, but that the Legislature had refused to appropriate.
  • The remaining $27 million would come from issuance of new general obligation bonds, predicated on voters approval of a bond proposition on the statewide ballot this November.

  • Local park funding will be increased to $15.5 million per year — the same level allowed under the $32 million cap, but about $10 million more than the Legislature has appropriated over the past two years. The $15.5 million will be used in a grant program whereby local governments apply to TPWD for matching grants to help fund local parks.
  • The grants are awarded using a standardized scoring system designed to rank projects, reducing opportunities for political pressure to influence agency decisions on which projects receive funds.

  • Legislators appropriated about $16.7 million for grants to 18 specific local park projects, none of which will have to go through TPWD’s standard, competitive grant scoring process. Included in the list of mandatory park grants are $3.75 million for 11th Street Park in Houston and $1.5 million for Spring Creek Parkway in Harris and Montgomery counties — and two parks named after current or former members of the Legislature.
  • TPWD will be allowed to use the $9.6 million the state received for the sale of undeveloped Eagle Mountain Lake State Park near Fort Worth for purchase of land for another state park. But the agency can use the funds to purchase park lands only if the acquisition is approved by the state’s Legislative Budget Board.
  • The Legislature also appropriated about $4.3 million that TPWD can use to acquire inholdings and land adjacent to current state parks.

  • TPWD will operate under a legislative mandate to improve its business practices, including meeting the recommendations included in a report on TPWD issued this year by the Texas State Auditor’s Office. TPWD executive director Cook said he welcomes the increased scrutiny and performance goals the Legislature is placing on the agency as a condition of increasing the parks division’s budget.

“The Legislature was very good to us, and we just couldn’t be happier with the budget they’ve given us,” Cook said. “But we also understand we have a huge responsibility to use those funds effectively and efficiently.”

I hope we all also understand that this can’t be a one-time fix, and that we can’t let things slide for as long as they did again. B and B, who followed the ins and outs of HB12 throughout the session, has more.

Early voting begins today for Houston runoff elections

You know what that means:

Early voting runs from today through next Tuesday, June 12. Times and locations can be found here (PDF). I figure maybe 97 people will vote in this runoff – okay, maybe a few more than that, but not many – so it’s important that Melissa’s supporters get out there and do their duty. If we show up, we win. It’s as simple as that. So please go vote, either between now and June 12, or next Saturday the 16th. Thanks very much.

The Menil turns 20

Happy birthday to one of the best things about Houston.

The Menil Collection is a serene gem in the heart of this boisterous city. To see its quiet presence on green lawns and surrounded by large trees, you might not suspect the pale gray clapboard building is also an international icon.

Once inside, however, you begin to glimpse the reason for that reputation, and, if you spend awhile in its galleries, you understand.

Its offerings are the highest-quality works from many centuries and cultures that enchant, intrigue, challenge and puzzle.

“The Menil has emerged as one of the premier museums in the United States,” says Glenn Lowery, director of New York’s Museum of Modern Art. “The collection is superb and the setting is spectacular. The combination of a rarified environment with the ability to concentrate on certain artists creates optimal viewing for the art.”

The renowned museum, considered one of the best private institutions in the world, celebrates its 20th anniversary on Thursday. Typically, it will be a sedate affair with art at its heart.

The birthday centerpiece is A Modern Patronage: De Menil Gifts to American and European Museums. The exhibit is about fine art and about the spirit that collected it, then gave it away.

Read the whole thing. I really can’t recommend the Menil enough. It’s fairly kid friendly, it’s never crowded, and it’s free free free. Got little ones and need a place to explore with them during the hot summer months? Go visit the Menil. You can thank me later.

Fox versus Crosby update

Last week I wrote about how a Fox 26 investigative report used some bad math to make the small Houston suburb of Crosby look like a hive of sex offenders. After I posted that, I heard via email that they were going to broadcast an update to that story last Thursday night on the 9 PM broadcast. I didn’t get that email till Friday morning, so I didn’t get to see that broadcast for myself, and the only thing I’ve found on their webpage relating to Crosby is this correction from May 24 that gave the same city limits versus ZIP code explanation I referenced in my earlier post. Far as I know, that’s where this now stands. If anyone happened to watch the Thursday, May 31 Fox 26 news broadcast at 9 PM, please leave a comment and let us know if the subject of the Crosby story came up. Thanks.

A question for those with Google Fu

I’ve known for awhile that my average daily Sitemeter traffic fluctuates mainly with search engine referrals. The variation can be as much as a few hundred hits a day. There are other factors, of course – the end of the legislative session and approaching elections always drive numbers up – but this is one that comes and goes unpredictably.

Last week, I noticed that a Google blog search for my URL suddenly started only returning stale links – compare to a Technorati search and you’ll see what I mean. Coincidentally or not, my Sitemeter stats took a dive at the same time.

I’m not alarmed by this, and I don’t depend on ad revenues so it’s not like this hurts me, but I am curious. What causes this to happen, and what if anything can I do about it? I presume that at some point it’ll fix itself, but it’s always nice to be able to be proactive. Any suggestions would be appreciated.