On November 8th, 2011, Texans will have the opportunity to vote on 10 proposed amendments to the state’s constitution. Texans for Fiscal Responsibility offers our views and recommendations.

Download a sample ballot for review.

Ballot reads– “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.”

In other words – A surviving spouse of a deceased veteran will become exempt from all property taxes as long as they don’t get remarried, the property is the primary residence of the spouse at the time of death, and the property remains the primary residence of the surviving spouse.

TFR StanceSupport Proposition 1
Our Reasoning – While the state should look to phase out the property tax system and move to a more equitable system like the sales tax, this amendment provides relief to the dependents of our military veterans who have sacrificed so much for our nation.

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Ballot reads – “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.”

In other words – The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) would be allowed to issue up to $6 billion in bonds for water and waste-water projects throughout Texas. TWDB would be able to reissue those bonds as they are paid off without coming back to the voters for permission.

TFR StanceOppose Proposition 2
Our Reasoning – This amendment authorizes the TWDB permanent bonding authority without having to come back to the voters for permission to sustain that debt, regardless of circumstances. The creation of a system of permanent debt is not responsible.

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Ballot reads– “The constitutional amendment providing for the issuance of general obligation bonds of the State of Texas to finance educational loans to students.”

In other words– The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board would be authorized to issue and sell more general obligation bonds to pay for more financial loans to students.

TFR StanceOppose Proposition 3
Our Reasoning – Like Proposition 2, this amendment authorizes permanent bonding authority to the Higher Education Coordinating Board, thus eliminating the ability of voters to re-check the need for such bonds. Tuition costs are too high as it is, and more availability of taxpayer-subsidized student loans only incentivizes universities to further raise rates without addressing costs.

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Ballot reads – “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.”

In other words – Cities have the ability to issue bonds to develop or redevelop land officials or private developers believe is under-productive (not producing enough taxes) or “blighted.” These bonds are then repaid from the additional property tax revenue collected as a result of increased property values. This proposition would give the same power to counties.

TFR StanceOppose Proposition 4
Our Reasoning – This gives counties new authority for “Kelo”-style redevelopment takings. Such power should be restricted, not expanded.

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Ballot reads– “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.”

In other words – When city and county governments enter into service contracts (infrastructure for example) with one another lasting longer than one year, a debt is constituted and a tax must be levied. This amendment allows local governments to enter into these contracts without imposing new taxes.

TFR StanceSupport Proposition 5
Our Reasoning – This amendment gives more flexibility for cities and counties to consolidate projects and services, therefore reducing the duplication of efforts and costs to taxpayers.

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Ballot reads – “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.”

In other words – This amendment would increase the amount of principal that can be transferred from the Permanent School Fund each year to the Available School Fund. Increased access to the principal of the PSF would be based upon alternative market calculations.

TFR StanceOppose Proposition 6
Our Reasoning – By allowing state government to take more money from the PSF in the short term, this amendment would endanger the principal of the fund thereby compromising future school funding.

Ballot reads – “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.”

In other words – This amendment would allow for El Paso County to use property taxes to create Conservation and Reclamation Districts to improve county parkland.

TFR StanceOppose Proposition 7
Our Reasoning – State and local governments should be moving away from the property tax system, not looking to expand dependence on it.

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Ballot reads – “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.”

In other words – This amendment would allow land currently used for farming, ranching, wildlife management or logging to be developed for water conservation without changing its tax status. Land that does not currently qualify for this exemption would not be eligible.

TFR StanceNeutral on Proposition 8

Supporters of the amendment say that it promotes water conservation and would not reduce tax revenue, since only property that already qualifies for this exemption would be eligible.

Those against the amendment say it is unnecessary and that would allow for the transfer of wealth from one set of property owners to another.

Ballot reads– “The constitutional amendment authorizing the governor to grant a pardon to a person who successfully completes a term of deferred adjudication community supervision.”

In other words– Currently, the governor can pardon someone who has been found guilty of a crime, but not those who have completed deferred adjudication. This amendment would allow the governor to pardon those who have had charges dropped after defendants completed deferred adjudication.

TFR StanceNeutral on Proposition 9

Supporters of the amendment believe it is unfair that someone found guilty of a crime can be pardoned and their record cleared, but state law does not afford those given deferred adjudication the same opportunity.

Those opposing the amendment say that violations should not be so easily removed from one’s criminal record.

Ballot reads – “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.”

In other words – Texas Constitution requires most county officials to resign their post if they declare they are running for another office with more than one year left in their current term. This amendment would change the provision to allow office holders to remain in their position if they announce with less than one year and 30 days remaining in their term.

TFR StanceNeutral on Proposition 10

Supporters of the amendment say it does not change policy but rather adjusts for the new federal filing date enacted to allow more time for the delivery of ballots to the military and others overseas.

Those against the amendment feel as though it is unfair that county officials should have this special provision that city and state officials do not have.

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