The proposed Texas Constitutional Amendments
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My position on the Constitutional Amendments proposed for November 8 follows. For a link to a more complete explanation of the amendments, click HERE. 1. The amendment authorizes the legislature to provide the surviving spouse of a 100 percent or totally disabled veteran with an exemption from ad valorem taxation of all or part of the market value of the surviving spouse’s residence homestead provided that certain conditions are met. –My comment: I don’t suppose that a no vote is going to break the bank, and if anyone is deserving, it is the surviving spouse of a totally disabled veteran. Still, it continues the long legislative tradition of giving tax breaks that undermine the fiscal condition of the state. At some point, the Legislature has to stop handing out tax exemptions. I am going to vote no, on principle. 2. The amendment authorizes the issuance of $6 BILLION in general obligation bonds for water projects. –My comment: This flies in the face of the pay-as-you-go principle. The Legislature doesn’t have the courage to pay for the water plan, so we just put it in on the credit card. There are plenty of ways to pay for the water projects we need without going into debt–taxing bottled water, for one; a tap fee on water for home consumption for another. I know I’ll hear from my friend Allan Ritter, but I’m going to vote no. Going into debt is a tax increase. You have to pay off the bondholders. 3. The amendment authorizes the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board or its successors to issue and sell general obligation bonds on a continuing basis for the purpose of financing educational loans for students. –My comment: I strongly support the state’s student loan program. However, it makes no sense to fund the program with general obligation bonds. It is just a way of hiding a tax increase from the public. If we want to fund student loans, and I hope we do, we should raise taxes to fund the loans. 4. The amendment authorizes the legislature to permit a county to issue bonds or notes to finance the development or redevelopment of an unproductive, underdeveloped, or blighted area within the county, and to pledge increases in ad valorem tax revenues imposed on property in the area by the county for repayment of such bonds or notes. NOTE TO READERS: An advocate of Proposition 4 writes: Cities already have the authority in Prop. 4, but counties do not. This makes it very difficult for counties and cities to work together on much-needed local transportation projects. And, as you well know, the state has basically bailed on keeping up with the infrastructure needs of our fast-growing communities. For example, unincorporated Harris County is the fifth largest city in the nation, yet cannot use this common economic development tool that cities use. –My comment: The only thing worse than bonds is speculative bonds. As I read the amendment, the county will only be able to repay what it borrows if the redevelopment increases the value of the property. If that doesn’t happen, how are the bonds going to be paid off? My only quarrel with the advocate is that I am not as confident as she is that property values always go up. 5. This proposal allows cities and counties to enter into interlocal contracts with other cities and counties without having to assess an ad valorem tax and set aside a specified amount of funds for the payment of costs under the interlocal contract. –My comment: This just looks like another way of allowing cities and counties to get around raising taxes. If they don’t have the money to cover the payment of costs, they shouldn’t be entering into the contracts. NOTE TO READERS: The same advocate who sent me information about Proposition 4 writes about Proposition 5: Under current law, cities and counties that provide joint services through interlocal agreements must renew those agreements annually. This is inefficient, prohibits long-range planning, often inhibits collaboration and causes duplication of services. Such inefficiency costs taxpayers. 6. The amendment allows the Legislature to increase the amount of principal that is available for withdrawal from the permanent school fund each year and would also clarify certain references to that fund in the constitution. Increased access to the principal of the state public education trust fund would be based upon HJR 109 granting the authority to consider alternative market calculations when determining the amount of principal that is available for distribution to the available school fund. HJR 109 would also provide authority to distribute to the available school fund annual revenue from school fund land or other properties up to $300 million per year. –My comment: The idea of letting the Legislature take money out of the endowment for public education gives me heartburn. Who knows how the Lege might spend the money? Remember when Craddick, Dewhurst, and Perry were talking about an infrastructure bank for toll roads? UPDATE: Rob Orr, the author of the constitutional amendment, called to say that the Legislature cannot get its hands on the money. That relieves my principal concerns, although it does seem to be inconsistent with the wording of the amendment. 7. The amendment adds El Paso County to the list of counties authorized to create conservation and reclamation districts to develop parks and recreational facilities financed by taxes. –My comment: If local voters are willing to tax themselves, that’s their business. 8. The amendment requires the legislature to provide for taxation of open space land devoted to water stewardship purposes on the basis of its productive capacity. –My comment: Another tax break. I guess this means that if a landowner builds a stock tank or a fishing lake, he gets a tax break. NO MORE TAX BREAKS! Another view: Harold Cook writes that this amendment is important for ranchers in the Davis Mountains area, who were hard-hit by fire: “The measure to create a water conservation tax break is only eligible to those who already have an ag tax break. Thus, what it does is give an additional option to those who already have the same (money-wise) tax break, during tough times for many of those who have the ag break.” 9. The amendment authorizes the governor, on the written recommendation and advice of the Board of Pardons and Paroles, to grant a pardon, reprieve, or commutation of punishment to a person who successfully completes a term of deferred adjudication community supervision. –My comment: At last, an amendment that doesn’t offer a tax break or try to avoid our pay-as-you-go system. I’m for it. 10. The amendment extends the length of the unexpired term that causes the automatic resignation of certain local elected officeholders if they announce candidacy or become candidates for another office from one year to one year and 30 days. –My comment: same as the previous comment.