Groups claim property tax constitutional amendment language was misleading


An election contest lawsuit has been filed against the Texas Secretary of State seeking to declare the passage of Proposition 2 void based on “the validity of the ballot language used in the election.”
True Texas Project, Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF), and Grassroots America — We the People filed the lawsuit on behalf of their leaders and the registered voters they represent. 

Before filing the suit, the groups attempted to remedy the ballot language by submitting a request in August to Deputy Secretary of State Jose Esparza. They received no reply. At that time the position of secretary of state was vacant, but Governor Greg Abbott recently appointed John Scott to fill the post. 

“This cuts to the heart of why people don’t participate in these elections. There is so much trickery in the wording of the propositions. It takes work to understand them,” TURF Director Terri Hall said. “Legislators deliberately tried to deceive voters about the tax implications of the proposition.”

The lawsuit points out the differences in ballot language between Proposition 2 this year and the language used in 2011 when the same measure failed.

A comparison of the most recent ballot language to the previous language demonstrates the difference. No language related to “ad valorem,” or property taxes, was included in 2021.  

“The constitutional amendment authorizing a county to finance the development or redevelopment of transportation or infrastructure in unproductive, underdeveloped, or blighted areas in the county,” the ballot read in 2021.

Compared with 2011 when it read, “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.”

When the more descriptive ballot language was used in 2011, the ballot measure lost by a margin of almost 20 points. In the recent election where no language about taxes was included, the measure passed by over 25 percentage points. 

“This demonstrates that the ballot language was not transparent. Now counties can issue debt without going to the voters and property taxes will continue to go up,” Hall remarked.

The lawsuit asserts that “State law requires that a proposition be described with such definiteness and certainty that the voters are not misled.” It adds that the misleading nature can include “omitting certain chief features,” in the case omitting language about issuing bonds or notes backed by property taxes. 

In contrast to Proposition 2, recent laws passed by the legislature, such as House Bill 3, required that school districts include the language “THIS IS A PROPERTY TAX INCREASE.” on certain ballot propositions. 

TURF opposed the measure which allows counties to create transportation reinvestment zones (TRZ). Hall explained that they designate undeveloped or underdeveloped land along a roadway for inclusion in the TRZ, then use the taxes generated by appraisal increases due to development in the area to issue bond debt and improve the road.

This leaves the homeowners in the TRZ holding the bag for bond debt on roads that many residents outside the TRZ likely use. And it increases property tax appraisals that have already been rising rapidly, she added.

The election challenge had to be filed in Travis County, but Hall acknowledges the likelihood of success there is low. She is looking for relief from an appellate court or the Texas Supreme Court. 

“This is the last chance for taxpayers to have ballot transparency,” Hall emphasized.

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