Washington State ParkPhoto courtesy Missouri State Parks.
Missouri voters will soon determine the future of the sales tax that funds Missouri’s system of 88 state parks and state historic sites. The Parks, Soils and Water Sales Tax, a one-tenth-of-one-percent sales tax, is set to expire this year if not renewed by voters. The tax will go before voters in November.
While most states fund their state parks through general revenue and user fees, Missouri’s state park system receives three-fourths of its funding through the sales tax. The constitutional tax was originally set to expire every five years but later amended to only require renewal once every 10 years. Though it only requires a simple majority to pass, in 2006 it was renewed with two-thirds approval by voters. If the tax expires in 2016, Missouri State Parks would have to look for other sources of funding, including General Revenue and user fees.
“Funds would have to come from General Revenue or another source,” said Brandon Butler, a spokesperson for the Citizens Committee for Soil, Water and State Parks. “If the funds were not allocated or raised in another manner, drastic operational changes would need to occur to continue to operate and improve Missouri's state parks and historic sites.”
More than 18 million visitors pass through Missouri’s state parks and state historic sites annually. With activities like fishing, camping, hiking, swimming and bicycling, state parks are a popular recreational destination for families. State historic sites that showcase Missouri’s cultural resources make them a popular spot for learning more about the state’s history.
In addition to encouraging healthy activities and helping connect visitors to Missouri’s natural and cultural resources, proponents of the Parks, Soils and Water Sales Tax point to the important role Missouri State Parks play in the state’s economy, as well. Katy Trail State Park, for example, attracts customers to hundreds of businesses located along the trail. A 2012 study estimated the overall economic impact of visitor spending in communities along Katy Trail at $8.2 million. In all, for every dollar spent by Missouri State Parks to operate the whole state park system, Missouri’s economy sees a $26 return on investment.
While the parks portion of the tax is used primarily to operate and maintain existing state parks and facilities, some infrastructure improvements are needed and will be funded if the tax is renewed, including upgraded campground sites, day-use areas, roads, trails, water and sewer systems, and facilities for the disabled.
“If Missourians hope to continue having some of the best state parks in America, then they need to vote yes for this tax, so the parks will remain free to enter and at a level of quality other states envy,” Butler said.
The Parks, Soils and Water Sales Tax also funds soil and water conservation efforts in Missouri. Tax revenue has helped reduce erosion, preserve aquatic habitats, improve the health of farmland and protect drinking water supplies.