Often upstaged these days by his adorable, fast-moving son Reed, Ian Davis is a Democrat driven to make things better. Progressive causes are his passion — from working to elect and then re-elect President Obama to passing municipal bond proposals to leading the charge for the local chapter of the Sierra Club to championing the Austin Environmental Democrats.
Now Davis is turning his activism to saving Texas’s breathtaking public beauty from a funding crisis that could devastate our state parks. As director of Keep Texas Parks Open, he is organizing a movement to restore funding from the disastrous budget cuts of the 2011 legislative session.
In real life, Davis is married to Amy Everhart (Mayor Leffingwell’s policy director), and the power couple rarely misses a political event. At our Inauguration Watch Party, Reed made the front page of the newspaper, gazing up at President Obama on the big-screen TV at Scholz Biergarten.
QUESTION: Talk about the legislative budget threat to our state parks.
DAVIS: It dates back to the 2011 legislative session, when agencies across the board had budget cuts. Texas Parks & Wildlife lost 100 employees and had its budget cut 17 percent. We’ve been cut to the bone, so in order to keep parks open, Parks & Wildlife put in a 2013 budget increase request (of about $18.9 million) to avoid the closure of as many as 20 state parks. The initial House and Senate budget proposals (with an increase of $6.9 million), unfortunately, fall far short and could result in seven or more park closures.
QUESTION: There’s a policy issue involved in this crisis, right?
DAVIS: The central policy issue is diversion of money from the sporting goods sales tax. The 1993 legislature dedicated a portion of that to fund state parks. It will generate $65 million over the next biennium, but three-fourths of that likely will be diverted. We want the funds that are dedicated to parks to go to parks. The sales tax is an adequate solution, but it needs to be used for what it was intended, instead of being diverted from its intended purpose.
QUESTION: Tell us about the Keep Texas Parks Open. What exactly is it and what are its goals?
DAVIS: It’s a non-profit grassroots movement. The main thing we’ll be doing this spring is organizing town halls across the state. We have a use and a need for regular volunteers to help spread the word. At this point, the budgets are only proposals, so there’s reason for optimism. The more people learn about the threat of state park closures, the more they get upset and want to do something. So we need to organize and educate people now.
QUESTION: Why is it so urgent?
DAVIS: It takes a decade to plan to open and maintain a park, so it would be hugely devastating to close a park. It takes a long time to get it back up and running. With Texas’ population booming and people moving to the urban core, state parks are even more valuable as a way to experience Texas. So much of Texas land is privately owned that keeping state parks is key.
QUESTION: Are any of our Central Texas parks at risk of closure?
DAVIS: There’s no indication at this point of which ones would be closed, but we do have state parks in Central Texas. We’re fortunate to have McKinney Falls close to downtown Austin, and that’s a great opportunity for people to escape the city hustle. And there’s Bastrop, of course, that still needs millions to recover from the wildfires.
QUESTION: What are your personal experiences with parks in Texas?
DAVIS: My Dad was an Eagle Scout, and my Mom went to state parks, too. Growing up, we went to over 30 state parks. We went back and counted. We could never afford to go to Disney World, but we could afford to go to state parks. It was a fun way for kids to just be kids. Particularly for me, Bastrop State Park, McKinney Falls and Stephen F. Austin were important because our family had our annual Thanksgiving dinners the parks. We still rotate among those three parks. On top of that, my cousin got married at Bastrop State Park. It would be a loss in the family if any of them closed.
QUESTION: Your group’s Facebook page urges supporters to write letters to the editor, attend the statewide town hall meetings (starting in Spring) and share updates on social media. Anything else?
DAVIS: We will need lots of volunteers as we gear up for the town halls, and we just need to get everybody educated and involved. You can tell people to contact me for more information — Ian@keeptexsparksopen.com.