Thursday, November 3, 2011

Texas Ballot Propositions

Today’s post is not as local as yesterday’s, but it does specifically relate only to Texas. There are ten propositions on this November’s ballot to amend the Texas Constitution. The state constitution here is not as sacred and difficult to change as the US Constitution. It’s more of the basic law code, with many specifics, rather than simply the guiding principles. I’m not sure of the reasons for this difference. In general I think a more inviolate constitution would be a better idea. But, since it is what it is, we can at least take the opportunity as citizens to approve or disapprove any possible changes. 

My default vote is “against.” If there isn’t a compelling reason, then don’t change the law. For your benefit, my son Political Sphere and his wife and I sat together to read through the propositions and all the background and arguments we could find (see info source at the bottom of this piece). Then we took our arguments and talked them out in a Tea Party meeting. Conservatives are not all in agreement on these propositions, but I hope this adds to the needed thought process for informed voters. 

Below are the ten propositions, with their exact ballot wording, followed by my opinions and reasons.

Recommendations for Texas Ballot Propositions 2011 

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. 

For: Current law doesn’t allow the transfer of homestead exemption for a disabled veteran to pass to the spouse upon death. This amendment would correct that.

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. 

Against: The purpose is to make issuance of up to $6 billion an “evergreen” decision; the TWDB would not have to come back to the legislature to justify each new expenditure, as long as they don’t go beyond an outstanding $6 billion limit. I believe new expenditures should be justified each and every time.

Proposition 3: The constitutional amendment providing for the issuance of general obligation bonds of the State of Texas to finance educational loans to students. 

Against: The purpose of this change is to allow “evergreen” authority, to allow repeated issuance of bonds for this purpose without having to return to the people to justify the expenditure. I believe the issuance of bonds should always have to be justified, and not be made automatic.

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. 

Against: The taxing district gets to decide what qualifies as “unproductive, underdeveloped, or blighted” areas, regardless of what owners feel about the property. And this could create an incentive to increase property appraisals in reinvestment zones.

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. 

For: There is no apparent opposition. It seems like a sound idea to combine resources with adjacent or overlapping areas to contract for services, rather than create a new taxing entity.

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. 

Against: This has been difficult to decide. There is a difference between the current conservative (as in careful and safe) accounting method that does not include real property being held as investment for future use for schools, and the more possibly accurate method of including those holdings in the Permanent School Fund, which is used to decide the Available School Fund. Including those holdings would increase distributions to the available school fund. While this would seem to help with the current school funding shortage, it wouldn’t necessarily solve it. And once this change happens, if a tight time comes in the future, an accounting change will no longer be an option for solution. I don’t know which accounting method is better. But since proponents have not convinced me of the necessity of this change, I am voting against.

Proposition 7: The 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. 

Against: Creating a new taxing district is generally a bad idea. In this case it is premature, as there is no demand from El Paso to create it. It is intended by proponents simply to open the conversation on the creation of a parks district. It makes more sense to have the conversation and, following a decision that there is a need, request any necessary constitutional change.

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. 

Against: While opponents say simply that the bill isn’t necessary, it could actually be harmful. A large warehouse, for example, may have to purchase additional property that it cannot develop to compensate for area they develop with buildings and parking, and this additional undeveloped property could be taxed at the rate of productive land in the area.

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. 

Against: The person completing deferred adjudication shows already that charges were dismissed. A pardon isn’t necessary. What this would do is prevent information about charges from remaining on the record.

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. 

For: Both proponents and opponents agree that the change in the filing date to run for office (from January to December), changed as a result of meeting the requirements for getting ballots to military in time, shouldn’t adversely affect those filing. Opponents think there should be no requirement to step down from current positions. But even for those with this belief, this change is a step toward their purpose.  

One of my main resources was the Texas State House Research Organization.

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