Voters in Alabama, Missouri Vote to Preserve Park Funding

Voters in Alabama, Missouri Vote to Support Park Funding

Voters went to the polls this week to decide a number of issues, and in Missouri and Alabama, voters overwhelmingly voted to protect and maintain park funding.

In Missouri: Voters in Missouri overwhelmingly voted "yes" to extend the conservation sales tax for another 10 years. The earmarking was first approved as a Constitutional amendment in 1984 and has reaffirmed by voters in 1988, 1996 and 2006.

The constitutional amendment received support from more than 80 percent of the vote.

The one-tenth of one percent sales tax is put towards state parks and historic sites, as well as soil and water conservation.

Right now, the tax generates about $90 million annually for soil and water conservation and operation of the state park system.

2.2 million Missouri voters voted "yes" to continue the tax. 2015 Sheldon Coleman Award Winner MO Governor Jay Nixon was a leader of this year’s campaign.

In Alabama: A record number of Alabamians cast ballots in the general elections. The citizens of Alabama voted in favor of Amendment 2, which will secure the state parks funding and promises a sustainable future for the parks. An overwhelming percentage of Alabamians voted in favor of the Amendment and now for the first time ever, the parks will have secure funding allowing them to properly plan for the future, said officials.

Amendment 2 was included on the ballot after $15 million was transferred from the parks budget to the General Fund between 2012 to 2015. These funding transfers crippled the parks and depleted their reserve funds. Last year, five parks closed and numerous other facilities were shut down. Senator Clay Scofield and Rep. Kerry Rich heard the pleas of thousands Alabamians and sponsored the bill that brought Amendment 2 before the citizens of Alabama.

"Our coalition has been working for nearly two years to educate and engage citizens about the parks funding crisis,” said Philip Darden, chair of Alabama State Parks Partners Coalition. “We are thrilled for the passage of Amendment 2 and are excited to continue working to promote our parks and help them reach full stability, now that their funding is secured. Amendment 2 passed with the support of diverse organizations including tourism representatives, conservation groups, municipal governments and thousands of park volunteers who worked so hard to raise awareness about the importance of protecting the parks funding. We are very grateful for Senator Scofield’s leadership on this issue and his continued support of our parks.”

The majority of the state park system’s budget, about 90 percent, comes directly from guest fees. The passage of Amendment 2 will ensure that these guest fees are only used for the upkeep of the parks. As the parks funding was siphoned from the parks each year, park managers were left with difficult choices and multiple parks were closed and some facilities were shut down. For the last few years, the parks did not know their budget for the following year, making planning for routine maintenance each year - or even long-term planning - impossible for the parks.

In addition to protecting the park system’s funding, Amendment 2 included language to open the option for concession agreements at all parks. Many parks already have concession agreements with private businesses, including zip lines, a wakeboarding course, restaurant management, allowing food trucks at parks and ATMs.

“Don't underestimate the importance of Amendment 2 for the parks,” said Greg Lein, State Park director. “Despite a last ditch effort to misinform voters about Amendment 2, the voters heard our plea to protect the parks and I am so grateful for the support our parks have around the state. I'm very optimistic about the future of our parks and I can assure you now that the parks funding is protected, the parks will continue to serve citizens of our state and work to provide guests the best experience possible.”

Alabama parks attract millions of tourists each year and contributes $375 million in economic impact to the entire state.