Thursday, October 22, 2015

Sampling the Ballot, Part I

There’s an election coming up, first Tuesday of November. In our area, early voting is already underway. So I’m getting down to the nitty-gritty of deciding how to vote.
page 1 of the
Harris County Sample Ballot

We’re outside of Houston, by about a mile, so I’m not going to make any decision about the mayoral race or other city positions. But I can point out a couple of things. 

The mayor, as well as city council races are non-partisan. That is, the candidates don’t run from a party, with a primary putting up a chosen candidate. The candidates themselves, however, generally have a strong party affiliation. And Houston hasn’t had a Republican mayor since 1938.

When we moved here, it was Mayor Lee Brown. He was what you would expect from a liberal mayor. Not good. Then came Mayor Bill White. He ran as a businessman, a man who would come in and improve budgeting, and get things done more efficiently. But he was pretty much just disappointing, as the city announced itself to be a sanctuary city to illegal aliens, and made pretty much no progress against debt. 

Then we got Mayor Anise Parker, who ran as a businesswoman. She sounded sensible. You’re supposed to vote for the best person. I don’t vote in Houston city elections, but she seemed reasonable, and I wasn’t against her. As soon as she was elected, the news announced how remarkable it was that a lesbian had been elected. 

During her campaign her sexual orientation had not been an issue. Suddenly it was. And she conducted her administration as an activist for homosexuality. HERO (the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance), Prop 1 on the city ballot, is an example—which you must vote AGAINST if you're in Houston; it adds no equal rights protections to anyone, but does take away the right to believe women and children are put at risk if men are allowed in their bathrooms. If you followed that issue, you know Mayor Parker threw out tens of thousands of signatures intended to put it on the ballot, rather than just going along with her. And she subpoenaed pastors for their sermons and communications to see if they said anything about LGBT issues. She was legally slapped down for that.

So now, maybe it’s time to forget about who appears to be the best person, cross off everyone that is a Democrat, a liberal, or a progressive (or any other code word). And from whomever is left, find the best conservative and vote for that person. I don’t know who you should decide on in the city; I didn’t examine them all. But I am aware Bill King got endorsements from State Senator Paul Bettencourt (the tax man), and current City Council (District G) Member Oliver Pennington. Bettencourt has also endorsed Sandie Mullins Moger for that District G position. 

Any more research is up to you. You might note that, if the Houston Chronicle gives an endorsement, it’s likely that is a liberal/progressive decision, unless they didn’t have a liberal alternative.

So, now to my local ballot—in three parts: state propositions, county propositions, and local school board.

State Propositions

A couple of these I followed through the legislative session, and I’m in favor of those. That is Prop 1, which increases the homestead exemption for property taxes, from $15 to $25. The wording on the ballot is long. It also allows for the full exemption for elderly or disabled. It might be better if it were a percentage, rather than a set amount. But we’ll take what we get. There's a detail about property taxation rates being held at a set rate upon disability or retirement. This will make it so they get the full exemption, even though that's a change to their set agreement. So, I’m voting YES on Prop 1.

Prop 2 extends the homestead exemption in Prop 1 to the surviving spouse of a disabled veteran who died before this homestead exemption law went into place—so that such a spouse isn’t the only category of homeowner left out.  So I’m voting YES on Prop 2 as well.

I also followed Prop 6, which recognizes the right to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife according to conservation laws. That ought to be a given, but here it is, now, in our state constitution. So, I’m voting YES on Prop 6.

From here on I know less, so these are my thoughts. If you know more, please share with the rest of us.

Prop 3 is intended to allow statewide elected officials to live somewhere other than in the capital, which is Austin. I don’t know much background about this. I don’t see it as a problem. If a person lives in, say San Antonio, an hour from the capital, and is willing to commute each day they are needed in Austin, I don’t see that as a problem. Lots of people commute for an hour a day. Austin is a high cost living area. Choosing maybe Round Rock, nearby but more suburban, seems reasonable. Maybe there’s something more to this than I’m thinking of. But it seems to me, being in the office, and available as needed, is what is relevant, not where one pays for one’s housing. So, I’m voting YES on Prop 3.

Prop 4 allows the legislature to allow the charitable foundations of professional sports teams to hold raffles. I’m not convinced this is an essential role for our legislature. Maybe there are arguments in favor, but they haven’t reached me. So, I’m voting NO on Prop 4.

Prop 5 authorizes small counties—population less than 7,500—to perform private road construction and maintenance. The key detail here seems to be “private.” Many roads in a rural county are likely to be private—to and from farms or ranches, or began that way. It may be that it is in the county’s interest to make sure such roads are maintained. In a large county, maintaining private roads could seem suspicious for a government to take on. But in these small places, I think it is probably not going to be a sign of corruption. So, feel free to disagree, but I’m voting YES on Prop 5.

Prop 7 dedicates taxes and revenues from automobile sales, use, and rental to the state highway fund, for non-toll roads, and to reduce transportation-related debt. I usually start with any tax as a no. But this is not a new tax, but a dedication of taxes already received for this specific purpose. It seems reasonable, since the revenue sources are related to the use. So, feel free to disagree, but I’m voting YES on Prop 7.

Other than the occasional flyer in the mail for some particular proposition, I haven’t found many opinion sources on these. But the Conservative Coalition of Harris County, a group of citizens that study the issues and candidates and give their recommendations, shows the percentage of their group and the way they are learning:

State Proposition
Prop 1
Prop 2
Prop 3
Prop 4
Prop 5
Prop 6
Prop 7

Harris County Propositions

Word of warning for the voter: The ballot will have two Prop 1s, Prop 2s, Prop 3s, and Prop 4s. (The City of Houston has and additional Prop 1, 2, and 3.) So read carefully and make sure you know where you are on the ballot. All of the Harris County propositions are for issuing bonds. The CCHC group are 100% against all four. However, I talked with one of them afterward—after he had gotten a response from the county commissioner’s office, and he may change.

County Proposition One will issue $700 Million in bonds for road improvement. According to word passed on to me, the county hasn’t raised taxes for roads in 17 years. With the growth in the county, it might be sensible to go along with these road improvement bonds. It’s hard to plan without funds to draw from, so it might be more efficient to fund through a bond.

Still, you might be interested to know that Harris County’s per capita debt of $543 is moderately high compared to other large Texas counties. Bexar, Travis, and Denton Counties are higher. Dallas, Tarrant, Collin, and El Paso Counties are lower. The highest was Denton County at $816; the lowest was Dallas County at $44 (data from Texas Transparency site). 

So, while my default position is No until convinced otherwise, and I’m am a bit torn, I will probably vote YES on County Prop One.

County Prop Two is $60 Million in bonds for parks. I don’t think this is maintenance of current parks; I think it is for new parks, but I may be wrong. It’s hard to imagine how the land could be found for several new parks. Not the little parks that are provided in new subdivisions, but big public parks, like Cullen Park or Bear Creek Park. Personally, I’m satisfied with the existing parks. So, feel free to disagree, but I think I’ll vote NO on County Prop Two.

County Prop Three is $24 Million in bonds for a much larger veterinary health and adoption center—a dog pound. The story is that the current one is too small, and this leads to quicker euthanization than a larger facility would have. The current clinic might be tight in capacity. However, their website currently claims that, while they don’t guarantee, they generally adopt out 100% of healthy dogs. So I’m not sure what would change with an additional $24 Million. I love dogs (cats are OK too). But I’m not convinced, so I’m voting NO on County Prop Three.

County Prop Four is $64 Million in bonds for flood control. I don’t know what flood control, not already in place, is needed to be planned ahead for, using bonds, rather than as needed funds. I’m in favor of flood control. I’m pleased with how quickly and efficiently floods get taken care of here. But I’m not convinced this additional funding is needed at this time. So, I’m voting NO on County Prop Four.

We have yet to get to the Cy-Fair ISD School Board. But this is enough for a day. So we'll do a Part II tomorrow.

No comments:

Post a Comment