There’s only one more day of early voting, and then Election Day is this coming Tuesday, November 5th. So it's about time I worked through my plans for the ballot. And I’ll share that with you, in hopes that you will be a more informed voter.
Our ballot contains 10 statewide propositions for changes to the state constitution, plus one Metro bond proposition, and four places on the school board of trustees—only one of which is contested.
Below is a chart I put together of opinions I’ve gathered as I've come to my decisions. Mark Ramsay and Terri Leo Wilson are our State Republican Executive Committee District 7 chairs. The Republican Party of Texas (RPT) put out information, but only supported those bills that represented planks of the party platform. TCC is Texas Conservative Coalition. TFR is Texans for Fiscal Responsibility. Doc Greene is the host of American Voice Radio, a daily two-hour podcast. He attended our Cypress Texas Tea Party meeting last Saturday, where we discussed the ideas, and he gave his opinions, along with TCC, TRF, and the rest of us, so I wrote them down. I also have opinions from Empower Texans, and Grassroots America/We the People. And I added conversations with my son, Political Sphere, an attorney in a rural county, where he often brings me a different perspective. The final column is my choices.
Below the chart are links to several of the sources and analysis, followed by my analysis of each proposition and the rest of the ballot.
· Republican Party Texas (supports only those that represent a plank of the party platform—the link shows the propositions, plus associated planks and information on those it supports):
· Texas Public Policy Foundation, by James Quintero and Shelby Sterling
· Texas Legislative Council (Lt Gov Dan Patrick, Speaker Bonnen, Exec Dir Jeff Archer—summary of both sides):
· Texas Conservative Coalition analysis
· Texans for Fiscal Responsibility short analysis
Proposition 1: The constitutional amendment permitting a person to hold more than one office as a municipal judge at the same time.
The law currently disallows holding multiple paid public positions, with the exception of municipal judges who are appointed. Currently about 95% of municipal judges fit this category—serving multiple cities or towns at the same time, which allows for costs to be shared by the municipalities. The proposition changes the law to include not just appointed municipal judges, but also elected municipal judges. It’s a minor change. It affects mainly rural areas and helps them meet needs at reasonable cost.
Those who oppose the law say they fear corruption. Some say they like the concept but don’t approve of the way the law is written. I don’t know how to judge that. My son the lawyer has read the bill, would normally favor an advantage for a rural area, and is leaning against it. So, to be safe, I am leaning against the proposition, but I’m open to more input.
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 $200 million to provide financial assistance for the development of certain projects in economically distressed areas.
The short answer is, this would incur new debt, and it would obligate future taxpayers for the length of the bond. Paying for infrastructure is a basic purpose of the general budget, so creating a constitutionally provided new fund seems unnecessary and likely to be used less efficiently.
On the other side, there are those who say bonds are the best way to pay for infrastructure improvements, because they spread the debt over time (with interest, of course). They also point out that some areas “might” have trouble getting clean water. If they aren’t even certain of the need, it doesn’t seem like a good purpose for additional debt. My son, who lives in a rural economically disadvantaged area, where he advises the county commissioners court, points out that this allows the water board to give better loan rates, so that would be helpful. However, even he is giving it only a maybe. So I’m against it.
Proposition 3: The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to provide for a temporary exemption from ad valorem taxation of a portion of the appraised value of certain property damaged by a disaster.
This is something we understand here, after Hurricane Harvey. Houses that were essentially destroyed, or in need of tens of thousands of dollars of renovation to even be habitable, were being taxed at a rate that assumed no disaster had occurred. So, at a time when homeowners were doing all in their power to pay what it would take to recover their property, the government was coming in and saying, “But we need the full tax amount in order to help with recovery.” Not very convincing. My son points out that smaller government entities set their budgets based on assessed property values, and if a September storm comes and temporarily wipes out property values, that government entity will not be able to meet its obligations, which will be even higher with the disaster recovery added on.
The key deciding factor for me is, government isn’t entitled to tax on value that doesn’t exist. I would rather have the burden of recovering from lost tax revenue on government at such a time than on those who are dealing with several feet of water in their homes. I’m voting for this one.
Proposition 4: The constitutional amendment prohibiting the imposition of an individual income tax, including a tax on an individual’s share of partnership and unincorporated association income.
Texas doesn’t have an income tax. It should never have an income tax. This constitutional amendment is intended to keep some future legislature from coming in and imposing an income tax.
Note the wording. Vote for the bill to say no income tax.
While I don’t find anyone actually opposing the bill, my son, acquainted with tax law, points out that there will be unintended consequences, because the law considers profits by LLCs, partnerships, and other business entities other than corporations as income that cannot be taxed, essentially making the franchise tax unconstitutional. Only corporations would be taxed on their profits, then. I’m still voting for it.
Proposition 5: The constitutional amendment dedicating the revenue received from the existing state sales and use taxes that are imposed on sporting goods to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Texas Historical Commission to protect Texas’ natural areas, water quality, and history by acquiring, managing, and improving state and local parks and historic sites while not increasing the rate of the state sales and use taxes.
The state has been taxing sporting goods sales, for the purported purpose of supporting Texas Parks and Wildlife. But the money has been going into the general fund, instead of being used for its stated purpose. This amendment simply requires that tax revenue to be spent for its intended purpose. There is no new tax, only better accountability for a tax already being collected. I’m voting for it.
Those against it tend to be against auto-allocation in budgeting. That means the legislature has no choice but to allocate certain funds or amounts to certain purposes. If the legislature could keep their word and allocate funds as promised (perhaps with exceptions under extreme conditions), then we could give them flexibility. But when they fail to do so, what do we do? My son suggests one other way would be to grant people standing to actually sue over the issues such as deterioration of parks, for example. But, since that’s not on the table, I’m still voting for this proposition. And we’ll have to deal with auto-allocation as a whole separate issue sometime.
Proposition 6: The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to increase by $3 billion the maximum bond amount authorized for the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.
Back in 2007 voters approved the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. Of that original bond, there remains $150 million not yet allocated, plus $286 million appropriated but not yet spent. Those in favor of the bond say this will last only through 2021 and then the whole research institute shuts down.
However, cancer research is not an essential function of state government. Private donations can be sought to continue the helpful research. Choosing not to take on additional taxpayer debt encourages seeking private donations, and prevents the costs of borrowing. So, while I’m in favor of cancer research, I believe that’s a private obligation, not a government purpose. So I am voting against the proposition.
Proposition 7: The constitutional amendment allowing increased distributions to the available school fund.
Funding of public schools in Texas is complicated. In short, there’s a Permanent School Fund (PSF), which is invested money, sort of an endowment. And there is the available school fund (ASF), used in current annual budgeting. Both of these are managed by the General Land Office (GLO), which has lands and resources invested that the proceeds of which go toward education, and by the State Board of Education (SBOE). This proposition would double the current cap of $300 million of GLO money that can come from the PSF to the ASF, and would also allow an additional $600 million SBOE funding toward the ASF.
This is a matter of investing less and using more in a current year—purportedly in years when the proceeds are positive enough to provide beyond the current cap. The GLO and SBOE would be required to coordinate to make the best use of funds.
Proponents look at the increased flexibility. For those that look at this as a question of state vs. local spending, it should be noted that the state makes many, many demands on local school districts, which it had better fund in order for them to meet those requirements. Unfunded mandates are bad when the federal government does that to the states, and they’re bad when the state does that to local districts.
Opponents point out that increased spending in a current year could decrease available income in the future, because the money is spent rather than invested. They also point out that increased spending does not guarantee improved outcomes from the schools.
I hold the rather radical view that more (and eventually complete) movement toward the free market would improve outcomes and lower costs in education, as it does with everything else that is not a proper role of government (protection of life, liberty, and property). But our state has a dedicated constitutional purpose of funding public education. So, facing that, the question is, what is the best way to fund it? If we could guarantee that decisions would always be wise, I’d be in favor of this proposition. But since we can’t guarantee that, I am uncertain. Many conservatives that I trust are favoring the proposition, so I am leaning toward voting for it, but I am still open to more information.
Proposition 8: The constitutional amendment providing for the creation of the flood infrastructure fund to assist in the financing of drainage, flood mitigation, and flood control projects.
We learned a lot from Hurricane Harvey. One of the things we learned was what areas were problems that need fixing before future storms, such as maybe a new reservoir in the Cypress Creek area of Spring, in the northwest part of the county. The special fund would allow for such projects, and would make smaller entities more able to meet matching fund requirements placed on disaster mitigation funds from the federal government. Now that we know what the problems are, let’s take care of them.
Many people are against this bill. I don’t fully understand their arguments. They’re not against funding the infrastructure; they seem to be against this particular approach, outside of general revenue. Some of them are against any use at any time of the Rainy Day fund. I think, if Harvey wasn’t a rainy enough day to access those funds, nothing is. I may be going against the crowd, but I’m leaning toward voting for this proposition.
Proposition 9: The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to exempt from ad valorem taxation precious metal held in a precious metal depository located in this state.
The question is whether to carve out a particular industry to benefit: precious metal providers. This would make it so that, as long as the metals are kept in a depository, they could not be taxed by local government entities—regardless of whether the owner plans to use them for commercial purposes. Currently personal property not held for producing income is not subject to property tax, but it could be subject to local taxing units. Government can only exempt tangible assets from taxation if the exemption is provided for in the state constitution, which is why it’s coming up for vote. Proponents say this would take away some uncertainty about the taxation of precious metal depositories and would do little to change taxing revenue. And, they say, it would prevent business from going to other states where precious metal depositories are not taxed. Others point out that the convenience of using a local depository for precious metals would outweigh the concerns about any possible tax. Also, they point out that this allows government to pick out winners and losers.
Compare to bitcoin mining. The mine for this is a machine, possibly called an antminer. This machine is very much like a precious metal depository; it works to “dig up” value. But this type of business would not be exempted as a depository.
People have mixed views on this proposition. I’m leaning against it.
Proposition 10: The constitutional amendment to allow the transfer of a law enforcement animal to a qualified caretaker in certain circumstances.
When a police office retires, he is not allowed to take his car with him, or other items of value. Currently, a service animal, such as a drug-sniffing dog, is considered a thing of value. A retiring officer would have to purchase the dog in order to keep it. But the dog is only of value to the organization when it is connected to its owner/trainer. When that person is no longer there, the animal isn’t of value to the department. This allows the department to gift the dog to the officer, which makes sense. So it changes ownership but not possession. The federal government already allows service dogs to go with their handling officers upon retirement (of the dog or the person). It makes sense to allow local law enforcement entities to also allow it. Everyone I checked with supports this one. I’m voting for this proposition.
Metro Transit Authority, Proposition A: Bonds not to exceed $3.5 billion for new bus system, HOV lane improvements, next phase of MetroRail, and other improvements.
The actual wording takes up an entire column of my ballot.
It’s harder to get analysis on this than on the statewide propositions. Metro has been mailing out colored flyers. But I don’t know anyone who favors it. The essential things, such as HOV lane improvements, don’t require a $3.5 billion bond, indebting us for the next couple of decades (plus whatever other bonds they add on before this one is retired). MetroRail has never been a good investment, so putting more money into that isn’t my idea of wise spending. Let them come back to us with a request for actual needs in a cost range that matches those needs. I’m voting against Proposition A.
The only other items on my ballot are four Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District (CFISD) board of trustee positions. Positions 1, 2, and 4 are unopposed. Position 3 has three candidates: Gilbert Sarabia, Ryan C. Irving, Jr., and Natalie Blasingame. I have heart Gilbert Sarabia speak twice, to Cypress Texas Tea Party, heading into this election. I voted for Natalie Blasingame in 2017 and 2015 (she didn’t win either time), but I haven’t heard a word from her this election cycle. Ryan Irving is a 19-year-old student, and he hasn’t reached out to anyone I know; I don’t think he’s ready. CFISD provides more information about the candidates here. And you can listen to their candidate forum here.
Gilbert Sarabia was not able to attend the candidate forum (for a very valid reason—his mother was on the verge of dying). But I did still like Natalie Blasingame. I reread what I wrote about her in 2015, and I still agree with those things. So, while I was leaning toward Sarabia, I think I will once again vote for Blasingame.