Here are the proposed state constitutional amendments coming up in the November election. As a state employee, I do not think it would be ethical to post my opinions about the proposed constitutional amendments. So instead I have posted an analysis and arguments for and against each proposed amendment. Post any questions you have in the comments, and I will do my best to get you an answer.
The Texas Legislative Council posts an analysis of the proposed amendments each year. Their analysis is 69 pages, so for the most part, I summarized their analysis and added a little of my own. If you want to read their full publication, click here.
Proposition 1: The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to provide for an exemption from ad valorem taxation of all or part of the market value of the residence homestead of the surviving spouse of a 100 percent or totally disabled veteran.
Analysis: Disabled veterans receive a 100% exemption from their ad valorem property taxes. Should they pass away, the exemption expires, forcing the surviving spouse to pay the full amount of taxes.
Support: Many spouses of disabled veterans are not employed because taking care of a disabled person is a full-time commitment. To recognize their sacrifices and dedication to someone who gave their life to this country, we should extend this gesture to the surviving spouse.
Opposition: It will cause the state to lose money in a time where so many areas are underfunded. Also, property taxes are state taxes. The military is a federal issue, so the federal government should be the one to give tax breaks, not the state.
Proposition 2: The constitutional amendment providing for the issuance of additional general obligation bonds by the Texas Water Development Board in an amount not to exceed $6 billion at any time outstanding.
Analysis: In 1957, Texans approved a constitutional amendment authorizing general obligation bonds for water resources and conservation. Since then, these projects have been expanded and are now administrated by the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB). All previous voter-approved bonds were only approved for a one-time use, meaning once the bond amount was used, nothing else was available. The proposed amendment would authorize an additional $6 billion in bonds as general obligation bonds on a continuous or revolving basis, rather than on a one-time basis.
Support: There has been a huge increase in Texas’ population. With serious drought issues, there is a requirement for an updated infrastructure to meet the current water needs and to anticipate and plan for future needs. Without the additional authority, critical water planning and infrastructure upgrades will be greatly impeded or halted altogether.
Opposition: This gives more authority and power to an agency rather than the people. It is irresponsible to give the TWDB complete and permanent bonding authority without having to receive votes from the public.
Proposition 3: The constitutional amendment providing for the issuance of general obligation bonds of the State of Texas to finance educational loans to students.
Analysis: The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) administers the Hinson-Hazelwood College Student Loan Program, which uses general obligation bonds to finance low-interest loans to eligible students seeking an undergraduate, graduate, or professional education at public and private institutions. The loan program is intended for students with insufficient resources to finance a college education. Currently, the Texas Constitution caps the amount of general obligation bond authority available to THECB for the loan program. Every four to six years, THECB must seek a constitutional amendment to effectively reset the available bonding capacity to meet ongoing student loan demand. This amendment will not require the THECB to come back to the voters every time they need more money.
Support: There is a higher demand for student loans. Low-interest, fixed rate loans, like this program provides, are the best loans to get. The law requires the program to be self-sustaining and pay back its debt service payments. The state has never had to contribute any general revenue for bonds issues under this program.
Opposition: The benefits of the Hinson-Hazelwood program generally are unquestioned. If any state money is given to people for higher education, it should be a grant and not a loan. The state should not be in the loan business.
Proposition 4: The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to permit a county to issue bonds or notes to finance the development or redevelopment of an unproductive, underdeveloped, or blighted area and to pledge for repayment of the bonds or notes increases in ad valorem taxes imposed by the county on property in the area. The amendment does not provide authority for increasing ad valorem tax rates.
Analysis: The legislature may allow cities to issue bonds for development or redevelopment of certain areas (usually given to blighted areas that need help). Increases in property tax revenues in that area are used for the repayment of those bonds. This amendment would allow the legislature to allow counties to do the same.
Support: Counties should have the same ability as cities to improve areas.
Opposition: It could lead to eminent domain issues. Also, it could create an incentive to appraise property taxes in the zone at a higher value.
Proposition 5: The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to allow cities or counties to enter into interlocal contracts with other cities or counties without the imposition of a tax or the provision of a sinking fund.
Analysis: When counties and cities enter into contracts together, usually for infrastructure or transportation, a tax must be levied. This amendment would allow the governments to enter into these contracts without levying new taxes.
Support: It gives local government more flexibility and will not force new taxes when unnecessary.
Opposition: Contracts between local jurisdictions are great, but there is a reason the entities are separate and have separate governments. With more incentive to enter into more and more contracts, small cities or counties could turn into huge conglomerate areas.
Proposition 6: The constitutional amendment clarifying references to the permanent school fund, allowing the General Land Office to distribute revenue from permanent school fund land or other properties to the available school fund to provide additional funding for public education, and providing for an increase in the market value of the permanent school fund for the purpose of allowing increased distributions from the available school fund.
Analysis: The permanent school fund is a perpetual endowment for the support of public schools. If the permanent school fund’s investment performance allows, distributions are made periodically from the permanent school fund to the available school fund. This amendment would increase the amount of principal that can be transferred from the Permanent School Fund each year to the Available School Fund.
Support: Recent legislation allows the General Land Office (GLO) to transfer money under its control in the permanent school fund directly to the available school fund. A subsequent attorney general’s opinion, ruled that the provision is likely unconstitutional. It is necessary to clarify the constitutionality of this act. It would also ensure the use of constituent terminology in referring to the permanent school fund.
Opposition: The permanent school fund is meant to provide interest revenue from investment of the fund’s permanent assets for distribution to the available school fund and, in turn, to the public schools. Taking money out of the fund in the short-term might be alright, but in the long-run, it will compromise the fund.
Proposition 7: constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to permit conservation and reclamation districts in El Paso County to issue bonds supported by ad valorem taxes to fund the development and maintenance of parks and recreational facilities.
Analysis: This amendment will allow for El Paso County residents to vote to use property taxes to create a regional park district to improve county parkland.
Support: The City of El Paso’s park system is underfunded. This amendment will facilitate the creation and maintenance of a regional park through a method already available in 10 other counties. It will not raise taxes. Rather it will allow voters in El Paso County to vote on whether or not this district should be created and be allowed to issues bonds payable from property taxes. If El Paso residents want to do this, it should be left up to them.
Opposition: If El Paso County residents agree to it, it will provide an opportunity for further taxing in a property-poor county.
Proposition 8: The constitutional amendment providing for the appraisal for ad valorem tax purposes of open-space land devoted to water-stewardship purposes on the basis of its productive capacity.
Analysis: This amendment would allow land currently used for farming, ranching, wildlife management or logging to be developed for water conservation without changing its tax status.
Support: Promoting water stewardship, especially voluntary conservation, is almost always a good thing.
Opposition: There are already many tax breaks for land owners. Another one is excessive.
Proposition 9: The constitutional amendment authorizing the governor to grant a pardon to a person who successfully completes a term of deferred adjudication community supervision.
Analysis: In Texas, a person who has committed a violent act or an offense that has significant implications to the victim still has the ability for that crime to be pardoned by the governor. However, for a lesser offense, for which the courts have ruled that the public is best served by an offer of deferred adjudication to the defendant, the governor has no power to pardon that crime. This amendment would allow the governor to grant a pardon to those who completes a term of deferred adjudication.
Support: It is not fair that the governor can pardon someone found guilty of a crime but not those who agree to deferred adjudication. Those who are pardoned in most cases are eligible for expunction of the criminal record, but those placed on deferred adjudication will always have a record of arrest.
Opposition: This might not actually efficiently achieve the goal of expunction of a criminal history record because the person still must proceed through the pardon process involving the Board of Pardons and Paroles and the governor, a process that historically has resulted in few pardons. Rather than allow for a pardon, the law should be changed to allow for those with deferred adjudication to seek expunction without going through the pardon process.
Proposition 10: The constitutional amendment to change the length of the unexpired term that causes the automatic resignation of certain elected county or district officeholders if they become candidates for another office.
Analysis: Texas Constitution requires most county officials to resign their post if they declare they are running for another office with more than one year left in their current term. This amendment would change the provision to allow office holders to remain in their position if they announce with less than one year and 30 days remaining in their term.
Support: It adjusts for the new federal filing date enacted to allow more time for the delivery of ballots to the military and others overseas. Due to the change of filing from January 2 to the second Monday in December, a change to the resign-to-run provision is necessary to preserve the original intent of the law.
Opposition: It is unfair for the county to have special provisions others do not have.