Thursday, October 15, 2009

Texas Constitutional Amendments: How to Vote

There's an election coming up November 3, 2009. For Richardson voters, the only items on the ballot will be eleven proposed state constitutional amendments. The US Constitution has been amended only twenty seven times in over two hundred years. In contrast, Texans amend their constitution as often as possible. The Texas Constitution has been patched and repatched 456 times since it was adopted in 1876. Unless you want to wake up on November 4 asking how this or that whack amendment got passed, brief yourself on the proposed amendments now, then get out the vote on Tuesday, November 3.

For more information on these proposed constitutional amendments, I recommend: "Analyses of Proposed Constitutional Amendments", published by the Texas Legislative Council, whose mission is to provide professional and nonpartisan service and support to the Texas Legislature.

I also recommend attending the program cosponsored by the League of Women Voters of Richardson, the RISD Council of PTAs and the Richardson Chamber of Commerce on October 20 at 7:00 p.m. in the RISD Administration Building (400 S. Greenville Avenue, Richardson). State Representatives Carol Kent, Angie Chen Button and Jerry Madden will discuss the proposed amendments.

After the jump, The Wheel's cheat sheet on how to vote.

Amendment No. 1 (H.J.R. 132): Vote YES

"Authorizing the financing, including through tax increment financing, of the acquisition by municipalities and counties of buffer areas or open spaces adjacent to a military installation for the prevention of encroachment or for the construction of roadways, utilities, or other infrastructure to protect or promote the mission of the military installation."
Cities near military installations depend on the bases for their economic livelihood. This amendment simply gives cities the bond-issuing authority needed to preserve the buffer spaces some military bases require to remain operationally viable. Whether, where and when cities decide to sell such bonds is still up to them. If you support military bases in Texas and the towns nearby, vote YES.

Amendment No. 2 (H.J.R. 36, Article 1): Vote NO

"Authorizing the legislature to provide for the ad valorem taxation of a residence homestead solely on the basis of the property's value as a residence homestead."
This amendment seeks to keep property taxes on some residential properties artificially low by ignoring the highest and best use of the land when valuing property. Sure, it stings when your property taxes go up because the strip shopping centers and big box retailers are driving up property values in your area. But in the bigger picture, rising property value is a good thing. If we keep one person's property taxes artificially low, someone else's are going to have to go up to compensate. If you don't want that to be you, vote NO.

Amendment No. 3 (H.J.R. 36, Article 3): Vote YES

"Providing for uniform standards and procedures for the appraisal of property for ad valorem tax purposes."
Property tax appraisal methods vary from county to county. Currently the Texas Constitution forbids any direct state oversight. This amendment gives the legislature the power to prescribe the manner of enforcement of uniform appraisal standards across the state. If you think uniformity of standards is a good thing, vote YES.

Amendment No. 4 (H.J.R. 14, Article 2): Vote YES

"Establishing the national research university fund to enable emerging research universities in this state to achieve national prominence as major research universities and transferring the balance of the higher education fund to the national research university fund."
Future economic prosperity in Texas depends on improving education. There's already an existing state higher education fund. This amendment simply allows the state to repurpose that fund so more emerging research universities can achieve tier one status. If you want to see the University of Texas at Dallas spur economic growth in Richardson in the coming decades, vote YES.

Amendment No. 5 (H.J.R. 36, Article 2): Vote YES

"Authorizing the legislature to authorize a single board of equalization for two or more adjoining appraisal entities that elect to provide for consolidated equalizations."
This amendment permits counties (it doesn't require them) to consolidate property appraisal boards, saving money and ensuring more professional and uniform appraisal methods across the state. If you think Texas has too d*mn many rural counties with too few people, and want to help them work together, vote YES.

Amendment No. 6 (H.J.R. 116): Vote YES

"Authorizing the Veterans' Land Board to issue general obligation bonds in amounts equal to or less than amounts previously authorized."
This amendment eliminates the need for the VLB to seek new bonding authority from voters every four years to replace bonds already issued and then retired or redeemed. Instead, the board can issue new bonds as long as the amount does not exceed a total authorized by the legislature and voters. There were no comments opposing this amendment during legislative hearings. Vote YES.

Amendment No. 7 (H.J.R. 127): Vote YES

"Allowing an officer or enlisted member of the Texas State Guard or other state militia or military force to hold other civil offices."
Current law already allows exceptions to the dual office-holding prohibition for most branches of the military. The Texas State Guard didn't exist at the time current exceptions were added. This amendment expands the exceptions to include the Texas State Guards. Vote YES.

Amendment No. 8 (H.J.R. 7): Vote YES

"Authorizing the state to contribute money, property, and other resources for the establishment, maintenance, and operation of veterans hospitals in this state."
This amendment authorizes the state to contribute to veterans' hospitals. It would encourage the US Department of Veterans Affairs to partner with the state to improve access to medical care for Texas veterans. Vote YES.

Amendment No. 9 (H.J.R. 102): Vote YES

"Protecting the right of the public, individually and collectively, to access and use the public beaches bordering the seaward shore of the Gulf of Mexico."
Public access to Texas beaches has a long history. This amendment seeks to preserve that right and strengthen it by placing that right in the Texas Constitution. Opposed are property owners who, knowing the risks due to storms and rising sea levels, build near Texas beaches anyway. When beach erosion and shifting vegetation results in their homes being located on public beaches, they seek to eliminate the public easement. If you think public beaches belong to the public and should remain open to the public, vote YES.

Amendment No. 10 (H.J.R. 85): Vote YES

"Providing that elected members of the governing boards of emergency services districts may serve terms not to exceed four years."
This amendment simply extends from two years to four the terms of boards of emergency services districts. This will provide more stability and continuity and less politicization for these non-partisan positions. If you agree, vote YES. (Oct. 20, 2009: Note that my recommendation has changed since my original post, due to me learning more about this amendment at a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Richardson.).

Amendment No. 11 (H.J.R. 14, Article 1): Vote YES

"Prohibiting the taking, damaging, or destroying of private property for public use unless the action is for the ownership, use, and enjoyment of the property by the State, a political subdivision of the State, the public at large, or entities granted the power of eminent domain under law or for the elimination of urban blight on a particular parcel of property, but not for certain economic development or enhancement of tax revenue purposes, and to limit the legislature's authority to grant the power of eminent domain to an entity."
This amendment would prohibit the state from using eminent domain for private economic development. The state siding with one private entity (say a big developer) over another (say a residential homeowner) in a property sale dispute is unfair. This amendment would protect the landowner. On the other hand, redevelopment is often in the public interest (think some of the aging retail areas of Richardson). This amendment sides with individual landowners in obstructing the public interest. Although I support the use of eminent domain in some circumstances, it should be limited, at least for now, to circumstances in which the ownership and use of the land is by the public, not for transfer to another private entity for economic development. Vote YES.

Early voting begins October 19. Election day is November 3. Get out and vote!

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