How I'm Voting on the Constitutional Amendments
Tue November 6, 2007 4:44 am

Prop 1. Angelo State University. The Legislature moved Angelo State from the Texas State University System to the Texas Tech System. The amendment makes sure that Angelo State will be able to receive funds from the same fund it had previously been authorized to receive funds from. I'm FOR.

Prop 2. $500 million in educational loans. I think the Legislature ought to gut up and fund real financial aid rather than loans. There is a huge need to guarantee access to higher education through scholarships. Programs like "B on Time" won't meet the demand because if students have to leave school or drop below a B average, they have to start repaying the loan immediately. But the Legislature isn't going to do what it ought to do, so this is the best we can do. I fear that we are creating a generation of debtors. Again, I'd like to vote against this proposition, but I'm going to cast a reluctant vote FOR.

Prop 3. Appraisal Caps. I'm suspicious of camel's-nose-under-the tent attempts to impose tougher appraisal caps and hamstring local governments, but this amendment seems harmless enough. It won't apply to taxing jurisdictions that conduct annual appraisals, which is most of them, including all the big ones. In less populated areas, however, appraisal districts may reevaluate property every second or third year, and if values are going up, landowners can get socked with double-digit increases in appraised value.

The justification is that, say, a 20% increase over two years averages out at 10% per year, which would be within the current cap of 10% per year. The amendment says no more of that; if an appraisal district doesn't appraise annually, the maximum increase in appraised value is 110% of the previous appraisal. I'm voting FOR.

Prop 4. Bonds for Construction and Equipment. The amendment authorizes up to $1 billion in general obligation bonds for maintenance, improvement, repair, and construction projects and for the purchase of needed equipment. As a fellow blogger has pointed out--I think it was Vince at Capitol Annex--this is basically a blank check. Why, if we have a pay as you go government, should we have to borrow money to buy computers? Whatever happened to fiscal conservatism? I'm voting AGAINST this bond issue and for pay-as-you-go government.

Prop 5. Small-town tax freezes. This allows cities with a population under 10,000 to freeze taxes on downtown property for give years. The idea is to encourage property owners to redevelop distressed downtowns with the help of the Texas Department of Agriculture. I guess small towns need all the help they can get. I'll vote FOR, but it sure seems to me like the Legislature is a lot quicker to help ag folks--we've got ag tax values, ag bonds, ag extension agents, ag wildlife management, and on and on--than city folks, like struggling school kids.

Prop 6. Property tax exemption for one automobile used for business and for personal reasons. There is no public policy reason for this. Can we Suburban owners have a property tax exemption because our vehicles use too much fuel? AGAINST.

Prop 7. Eminent domain buy-back. This allows property owners to buy property that was taken from them through eminent domain for the original sales price if the property is no longer needed. FOR.

Prop 8. Home equity loans clean-up. The best of this hodge-podge of provisions is that the one-year waiting period for a second home equity loan can be waived in the case of a declared disaster, such as a hurricane. Being from Galveston, I'm FOR.

Prop 9. Property tax exemption for disabled veterans. Part or all of the value of the homestead could be exempted, depending on the degree of disability. If you think I'm going to come out against this, you're nuts. FOR.

Prop 10. Abolition of the constitutional authority for the office of inspector of hides and animals. This is a city boy amendment. I'm standing up for our Texas heritage and voting AGAINST.

Prop 11. Public access to legislative votes. This is the Dallas Morning News amendment. It requires that a record vote be taken by a house of the legislature on final passage of any bill be posted on the Internet. All you have ever had to do to find a final vote was look up the legislative history of a bill on the Capitol Web site. No big deal. FOR.

Prop 12. Transportation Bonds. This is a biggie--$5 billion worth of bonds. I really want to be responsible and vote for this proposition, because I know we need more roads, but on the other hand I want to vote "no confidence" in Tx-DOT. I just read in the San Antonio Express-News that Tx-DOT may end up lowering speed limits on Interstate 35 to give Texas 130, the privately operated toll road bypass of the Austin metro area, more traffic.

So, let's see, we need the bonds to enhance mobility and prevent the loss of money and productivity caused by stalled traffic, so we'll consider stalling traffic on IH 35 so that drivers will go over to 130. It's in the contract; check out the link. I also want to protest the abandonment of pay-as-you-go government. The Legislature is asking the public to authorize $9,750,000,000 worth of bonds in this election. What happened to fiscal conservatism? And what happened to sane fiscal management?

Here's how bad state finance is. We have been spending gas tax money out of the highway fund to pay for non-highway related expenditures, such as the Department of Public Safety (not just state troopers but also the non-highway functions of DPS like the governor's security detail) and roads on college campuses (PORK!), so now we're going to take general revenue money to pay off highway bonds. Can't we just use the gasoline tax revenue that we're spending on DPS funding to pay off the bonds and the general revenue that we're using to pay off the bonds on DPS funding? As for now, I'm leaning AGAINST but I may get an attack of the responsibles tomorrow.

Prop 13. Denying bail to family violence offenders. Judges will be able to determine whether a defendant poses an unacceptable threat to a victim of domestic violence or to the community and, if so, to deny the defendant bail. I see the problem, but I think it is a slippery slope to deny bail to one class of offenders. I'm inclined to vote AGAINST.

Prop 14. Extension of judicial retirement. Under current law, a justice or judge who reaches the mandatory retirement age while in office must step down. The amendment would allow the jurist to serve the remainder of the term. I started to say that I am for this, but in fact there is a good policy reason for a mandatory retirement age and no good policy reason for extending a term beyond the age. A judge knows when he/she runs for office what the retirement age is, and he/she has two choices: retire now, or retire when he/she reaches the age. The governor can fill the vacancy. Nobody is indispensable. AGAINST.

Prop 15. $3 billion in bonds to cure cancer. I'm going to vote AGAINST this, for two reasons. One is that the nature of politics is such that this money is a big sweet, tasty pie that every medical school and university in Texas will want a piece of. Doling out money in small amounts to multiple institutions is just a waste of resources and an excuse for government by press release. If the idea were, say, to split the $3 billion between the two great research institutions, Southwestern Medical School and MD Anderson, I'd be for it, and I think we might get something for our money.

The second reason is that I don't trust the governor and the Legislature to set up a merit-based, non-political system of awarding grants. The money will be handed out by an entity to be created by the Legislature and known as the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. Is this a hospital? A research institution? Or a conduit for money?

Whatever it is, I betcha that it will have a board appointed by the governor, and maybe the speaker and lieutenant governor will get their hands in the till too, and it will turn into another political slush fund. The best way to get the most bang for the bucks is to turn the money over to top-notch research institutions. And to use general revenue, not bonds, which will require an additional $1.6 billion in interest expenditures.

Prop 16. $250 million in water and wastewater bonds for distressed areas. I assume this refers to colonias. This is a good program, and I'll vote FOR it, but at some point the proper authorities, be they state or local, have to stop the cycle of developers selling land to people who know there are no services, but are betting on the come that local governments will seek state and/or federal funding. If colonias were few in number this wouldn't be a problem, but in fact the $250 million is but a drop in the bucket. I don't see where this cycle ends.

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