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Guide to Texas 2015 Ballot Propositions

Who cares about ballot propositions?  Well, for starters, the people in Austin who are pushing them.  Usually the people who work on and pass legislation and proposed amendments are people who are VERY invested in the outcomes.  That could be a lobbyist for an industry, or an issue advocacy group, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  Except, you know, that whole ‘government goes to those who show up’ thing.  What if the only people showing up are ones who have something to gain?

Texas has seven proposed amendments to the constitution on the ballot this November, and I’ve done some digging into them, with the inspiration and help of my State Representative Mike Schofield who pointed me towards some invaluable resources.

Turnout for this November’s election is expected to be low, and so it won’t take many voters to pass these amendments.  Ballot propositions usually DO pass in Texas.  Maybe some ought not to pass, but who has time, resources, and reach enough to make recommendations that will have an effect?  I don’t.  And I don’t see many organizations out there making recommendations.

But maybe what I can do is explain that these propositions are going to benefit SOMEONE, and that it’s a good idea to look into that before blindly voting for things based on nice-sounding ballot language.

And maybe what YOU can do is share this around to the people you know and interact with.  Post it on social media.  Send it in an e-mail to the people who look to you for information.  I guarantee that there are people out there who are eager to be informed.  And I guarantee you’ll have a better chance of influencing them in the coming year, too, in the midst of the presidential election year craziness.  That’s a win-win.

And if I’ve missed an angle on a proposition, or you think I’ve not thought it through all the way, please PLEASE add your comments below!

Note: When I’ve had a particular take on a proposition, I’ve included my thoughts.  I’ve also included a sample of groups for and against each proposition when possible, and links to the full list of witnesses providing testimony, as well as the link to look up the bills and the bill ID number.  Also, just because there might not be witnesses testifying against a proposition, that doesn’t mean there isn’t any opposition, or that there’s no reason to oppose a proposition.  It just means no one formally showed up against a particular bill.

Check out the links at the end for more resources and articles on all the propositions.  -f

 

ELECTION INFORMATION:

Monday October 19 – First Day of Early Voting

Friday October 23 – Last Day to Apply for Ballot by Mail (Received, not Postmarked)

Friday October 30 – Last Day of Early Voting

Tuesday November 3 – Election Day,  Last day to Receive Ballot by Mail

 

Summary of Ballot Propositions (via Ballotpedia)

props 2015

LRCA = Legislatively-referred constitutional amendment

 

PROPOSITION 1 – Changes the homestead exemption amount for school district property taxes from $15,000 to $25,000

BALLOT LANGUAGE“The constitutional amendment increasing the amount of the residence homestead exemption from ad valorem taxation for public school purposes from $15,000 to $25,000, providing for a reduction of the limitation on the total amount of ad valorem taxes that may be imposed for those purposes on the homestead of an elderly or disabled person to reflect the increased exemption amount, authorizing the legislature to prohibit a political subdivision that has adopted an optional residence homestead exemption from ad valorem taxation from reducing the amount of or repealing the exemption, and prohibiting the enactment of a law that imposes a transfer tax on a transaction that conveys fee simple title to real property.”

WHO’S FOR: Texas Public Policy Foundation, Texas Association of Realtors, Texas Association of Builders

WHO’S AGAINST: Texas State Teachers Association, Texas Taxpayers and Research Association

SEE FULL SENATE WITNESS LIST

SEE FULL HOUSE WITNESS LIST 

BILL LOOKUP NUMBER:  SJR 1

 

PROPOSITION 2 – Exempts property from taxation for surviving spouses of totally disabled veterans

BALLOT LANGUAGE“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 who died before the law authorizing a residence homestead exemption for such a veteran took effect.”

WHO’S FOR: Texas Republican County Chairmen’s Association, Texas Democratic Party, Texas Assn. of Builders

WHO’S AGAINST: None

SEE FULL SENATE WITNESS LIST 

SEE FULL HOUSE WITNESS LIST 

BILL LOOKUP NUMBER:  HJR 75

 

PROPOSITION 3 – Repeals the requirement that certain executive officials reside in the state capital, Austin, while in office

BALLOT LANGUAGE“The constitutional amendment repealing the requirement that state officers elected by voters statewide reside in the state capital.”

MY TAKE – Proposition 3 offers to eliminate residency requirements in Austin for statewide elected officials.

I’m about it, especially if it means they can’t currently live in a suburb of Austin, but rather within the city limits. That’s just weird. Though with Austin traffic, why you would work in downtown Austin and live in, say, Pflugerville, is beyond me, if you could afford to live close to downtown. Which, if you ran and won a statewide campaign, you certainly ought to be able to afford to do.  Still, the intent here seems to be about keeping statewide officials close enough to their staffs to manage them.  How you make that a thing with a residency requirement is beyond me.  If the intent is to keep them at their offices so they can manage their staffs, why not propose an amendment that mandates a certain number of hours at the office?  Will THAT make them manage their staffs any more?

WHO’S FOR: Texas Republican County Chairmen’s Association, Texas Democratic Party

WHO’S AGAINST: None

SEE FULL SENATE WITNESS LIST

BILL LOOKUP NUMBER: SJR 52

 

PROPOSITION 4 – Allows professional sports team charitable foundations to conduct charitable raffles

BALLOT LANGUAGE“The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to permit professional sports team charitable foundations to conduct charitable raffles.”

MY TAKE – This is supposed to increase the number of raffles pro sports teams’ charitable foundations may hold. Why not?

WHO’S FOR: Houston Astros Foundation, Houston Texans, Dallas Stars Foundation, Spurs Sports & entertainment,

WHO’S AGAINST: Christian life commission of the Baptist Convention of Texas

SEE FULL SENATE WITNESS LIST

SEE FULL HOUSE WITNESS LIST

BILL LOOKUP NUMBER: HJR 73

 

PROPOSITION 5 – Authorizes counties with 7,500 people or less to perform private road construction and maintenance

BALLOT LANGUAGE“The constitutional amendment to authorize counties with a population of 7,500 or less to perform private road construction and maintenance.”

MY TAKE – Okay, I’m pretty sure I’m NOT on board with this. The proposed amendment is lifting a cap of county population from 5,000 to 7,500 to be able to spend public funds on maintaining private roads.  The thinking is that small counties that have built prisons bumped their populations above 5,000, but not their taxpayer base, so this is supposed to mitigate that for prison-population-heavy small counties.  You could achieve the same by rewriting the original language to exclude prisons.

I think the idea is that in small population/large area counties, it’s probably pretty spendy to bring in private road construction companies to maintain roads. But the potential for abuse is pretty high, isn’t it? If the county commissioner has friends who have massive ranches with private roads that need some work, what stops him from spending public funds on them?

And if the cap is 7,500 this time, how long until they raise it again? As someone said to me upon looking at this, if this was tried in the large populous counties, we’d have tar and feathers at the ready for our elected officials.

WHO’S FOR: County Judges and Commissioners Assn. of Texas, Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association,

WHO’S AGAINST:  None

SEE FULL SENATE WITNESS LIST

BILL LOOKUP NUMBER: SJR 17

 

PROPOSITION 6 – Provides for a right to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife

BALLOT LANGUAGE“The constitutional amendment recognizing the right of the people to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife subject to laws that promote wildlife conservation.”

MY TAKE – I don’t know from hunting. What I DO know from is politicians and lawmakers and issue advocates. THOSE GUYS are people you need protection from.

The NRA is for this proposition.

The text of the amendment (and the legislation) are crafted like, and I assume the intent is to be, a preemptive measure against anti-gun and anti-hunting movements and groups. Which, I guess, at this point may include the federal government. So there’s that.

I’m not saying that there aren’t natural rights at play here; what I’m saying is courts of law all over the country are interpreting things in ways that we haven’t traditionally interpreted them. And that having some codified basis in law for the exercise of rights is probably a good backup strategy.

I don’t see anything limiting the right to hunt or fish except for the regulations they mention in the proposition, which are already in place for conservation. Again, that’s not to say more can’t (or won’t) be added (THINK CALIFORNIA AND THE DELTA SMELT) but at least this seems to be a point upon which Texas can poke back at the feds if the EPA starts trying that mess here.

Also, I’m really thankful that the public land in Texas is almost all held by the state of Texas and not the federal government. Just sayin’.

WHO’S FOR: National Rifle Association, Texas State Rifle Association, Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, Texas Farm Bureau

WHO’S AGAINST: None

SEE FULL SENATE WITNESS LIST

BILL LOOKUP NUMBER: SJR 22

 

PROPOSITION 7 – Allocates a portion of sales and use tax revenue to the state highway fund through 2032 

BALLOT LANGUAGE – “The constitutional amendment dedicating certain sales and use tax revenue and motor vehicle sales, use, and rental tax revenue to the state highway fund to provide funding for nontolled roads and the reduction of certain transportation-related debt.”

MY TAKE: Texas is big, and has a lot of roads.  Our economy depends on good roads.  Texas roads are supposed to be funded by sales tax and various vehicle taxes.  But as I understand it, those dollars are presently able to be dragged into the General Fund, and might not be spent on roads at all.  Creating a dedicated fund for roads is supposed to  alleviate that problem, and make sure transportation needs are well funded.

I see this could cause a potential mess down the road as Texas might face less flexibility in the budget, but overall I think I prefer that the dollars the state collects in the name of roads are actually spent on that purpose.  The alternative is for the legislature officially to stop saying that we’re collecting those taxes for roads, and explain why.

WHO’S FOR: Texas Turf/ Texans for Toll-free Hwys, Transportation Advocates of Texas, TX Poultry Fed and Earthmoving Contractors Assn, Texas Oil and Gas Association

WHO’S AGAINST: Center for Public Policy Priorities, TX-American Federation of Teachers

SEE FULL SENATE WITNESS LIST

BILL LOOKUP NUMBER: SJR 5

 

LEARN MORE 

Texas Legislative Council

NRA

Texas Election Law Blog

Community Impact News

Free Republic

Cahnman’s Musings Blog

Lucy Burns Institute

KUT – Better Know Your Ballot

Montgomery County Tea Party Recommendations