Texas to vote on 14 constitutional amendments

Early voting for the November 7 election ended on Friday, and 14 constitutional amendments are on the ballot after their respective passage by the Texas Legislature earlier this year — headlined by the body’s marquee property tax cut that totaled $13 billion.

The University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs released a poll Monday morning on six of the propositions — those relating to property taxes; university funding; infrastructure spending for the power grid, water supply, and broadband expansion; and state park expansion — all of which are each primed to pass.

The university funding item pulled in the lowest amount of support among those surveyed, with just half of respondents saying they support it and with 23 percent opposed; the property tax item followed with 56 percent in favor and 15 percent against.

It is rare for voters to reject a constitutional amendment once it’s on their ballot. The last time that occurred was in 2019 when Proposition 1 — which would have allowed persons to serve in more than one municipal judge position — went down by a two-to-one clip.

Below is a review of each proposition on the ballot.

Proposition 1 – Right to farm

Ballot language: “The constitutional amendment protecting the right to engage in farming, ranching, timber production, horticulture, and wildlife management.”

As the state’s population grows, so does its demand for food — and the footprint of corresponding supply. This creates a tension point between the agricultural industry and those connected to it, and communities that have not traditionally felt the realities of those industries.

A great example of this clash is found in an ongoing case at the Texas Supreme Court over a massive poultry farm in East Texas and the nearby community coping with the “putrid odors” said farm produces. Chickens are a messy and smelly business, but the newish farm has rubbed its neighbors the wrong way in recent years. The neighbors call it a public nuisance and want it to halt operations.

The amendment would add stronger protections to the Texas Constitution for farming activities against potential local or state government restrictions.

Proponents say that food production is a necessary industry and should not find itself on the point end of the spear of overburdensome government regulations and that this amendment will provide farmers and ranchers with the constitutional protections they currently lack.

Opponents say that it unnecessarily hamstrings local governments’ ability to respond to excesses of the industry and to protect public safety through environmental or similar regulations.

Proposition 2 – Child-care facility tax exemption

Ballot language: “The constitutional amendment authorizing a local option exemption from ad valorem taxation by a county or municipality of all or part of the appraised value of real property used to operate a child-care facility.”

In addition to the state’s property tax exemptions, local governments have a few exemption tools available to them — such as the local option homestead exemption of up to 20 percent.

This amendment would add another option for cities and counties: to exempt from taxation the property used by a daycare center or other child-care facility. If deployed, that exemption could cover no less than 50 percent of the property’s appraised value.

The amendment’s enabling legislation requires that in order to qualify for the exemption the facility must participate in the Texas Rising Star Program, which sets certain parameters for the facilities.

Supporters say this will help child-care facilities stay afloat as inflation drives up costs of doing business. According to the Texas Legislative Council (TLC), no opposition was expressed during consideration of the bill. 

But to extrapolate criticism from similar property tax relief maneuvers that target specific businesses — such as the Legislature’s new tax abatement program for corporations — some disapprove of the practice of providing property tax breaks for specific industries at the exclusion of all the others.

Proposition 3 – Wealth tax prohibition

Ballot language: “The constitutional amendment prohibiting the imposition of an individual wealth or net worth tax, including a tax on the difference between the assets and liabilities of an individual or family.”

Texas has a constitutional prohibition against an income tax, and in a similar fashion, the Legislature wants to establish the same ban on a wealth tax — a tax on the net worth of an individual. The state has no such tax, and this amendment would make creating one even more difficult by requiring a two-thirds majority of the Legislature to approve one rather than a simple majority, along with consent from statewide voters.

A wealth tax has become more attractive in progressive circles that seek more avenues of taxation to finance spending. The California Legislature proposed a wealth and exit tax on those worth over $50 million. It went nowhere in the legislative body, but another version of the bill is likely to appear again.

Supporters say that kind of tax would discourage the creation of wealth and harm economic innovation.

Opponents say that it’s unnecessary, as nothing of the sort has been proposed, and that the current Legislature should not hamstring future ones’ ability to respond to evolving economic circumstances.

Proposition 4 – Property tax reform

Ballot language: “The constitutional amendment to authorize the legislature to establish a temporary limit on the maximum appraised value of real property other than a residence homestead for ad valorem tax purposes; to increase the amount of the exemption from ad valorem taxation by a school district applicable to residence homesteads from $40,000 to $100,000; to adjust the amount of the limitation on school district ad valorem taxes imposed on the residence homesteads of the elderly or disabled to reflect increases in certain exemption amounts; to except certain appropriations to pay for ad valorem tax relief from the constitutional limitation on the rate of growth of appropriations; and to authorize the legislature to provide for a four-year term of office for a member of the board of directors of certain appraisal districts.”

The $13 billion property tax relief plan — which gave the Legislature a splitting headache in the first and second special sessions this year — included a $60,000 increase to the standard school district homestead exemption. It was something Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and the Senate demanded, and while it took two special sessions, they eventually got it in a deal struck with the House this summer.

Should voters approve the proposition, they will see relief in this year’s property tax bill compared to that which they’d pay without it. With the full package, the Legislature estimates an average homeowner will see around $1,200 in “savings” on their tax bill — compared with what they’d otherwise pay, not in a reduction from last year’s bill. The average elderly and disabled homeowner would see a larger “savings” total.

The item also includes a section creating three elected positions with four-year terms on Appraisal Review Boards in each county of the state.

Supporters say that this amendment would provide a massive amount of property tax relief to counteract appraisal growth and spending by school districts, which account for more than half of property tax bills.

The opponents come in various stripes. Opponents on the right say that the law doesn’t do enough to move away from the state’s property tax-heavy system, while opponents on the left say it restricts the ways in which school districts can raise the funding for their operations to cope with population growth.

Proposition 5 – Texas University Fund

Ballot language: “The constitutional amendment relating to the Texas University Fund, which provides funding to certain institutions of higher education to achieve national prominence as major research universities and drive the state economy.”

The University of Texas and Texas A&M University have long benefitted from the Public University Fund (PUF) — a pot of money from oil and gas taxes paid largely by Permian Basin-operating companies. As of 2022, the PUF’s value is nearly $25 billion.

For years, state universities other than those two have tried to get a slice of the PUF for themselves or secure their own version of it. This question especially ramped up after the University of Texas announced its decision to leave the Big 12 Conference for the Southeastern Conference two years ago, to which A&M had already absconded.

Should voters approve this, Texas Tech University, the University of Houston, and other state schools besides the big two will have their own place in the Texas University Fund (TUF).

Deposits into TUF from the state’s Economic Stabilization Fund cannot exceed $100 million each year.

Supporters say that other research universities in the state deserve a similar setup to the PUF so they can expand and improve their operations like the big two can. Opponents, according to the TLC, showed “concern about the use of money from the economic stabilization fund to fund higher education initiatives since that fund was not designed for such purposes.”

Proposition 6 – Texas Water Fund

Ballot language: “The constitutional amendment creating the Texas water fund to assist in financing water projects in this state.”

The Texas Legislature earmarked $1 billion for the proposed Texas Water Fund, a constitutional fund to subsidize the expansion of water supply projects across the state. The Texas State Water Plan projects a worsening deficit in supply as the population grows, showing a 6.8 million acre-feet-per-year shortfall of existing supply by 2070.

It has proven a difficult endeavor to get decades-long projects across the finish line, with no better example than the planned Marvin Nichols reservoir that features its own heated local fight spanning decades.

This new fund is an attempt to help get the ball rolling on water supply projects across the state to compensate for the projected rising demand.

Supporters say it’s imperative that the state invest in its water supply infrastructure and do what it can to ensure projects move from development into operation. Opponents say the fund isn’t necessary to accomplish that and the money used here is better deployed elsewhere.

Proposition 7 – Texas Energy Fund

Ballot language: “The constitutional amendment providing for the creation of the Texas energy fund to support the construction, maintenance, modernization, and operation of electric generating facilities.”

One of the handful of actions the Texas Legislature took this year on the power grid issue was to authorize a new fund providing low-interest loans and bonuses to companies that build dispatchable power plants. The body itemized $5 billion for the new fund should voters approve it, which could only be given to projects in the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) region.

It’s meant to incentivize the development of thermal power plants, a sector in which the state currently lacks growth due to the market imbalance caused by federal renewable tax credits.

Proponents say that because of this “market distortion” caused by the federal government, the state must do what it can to drive the construction of reliable power plants to make the ERCOT grid more reliable.

Opponents say that answering one government’s picking of winners and losers should not be answered by another government doing the same — and that the cost of repaying loans will just be paid for by the ratepayer, as the initial funding comes from consumption taxes.

Proposition 8 – Broadband Infrastructure Fund

Ballot language: “The constitutional amendment creating the broadband infrastructure fund to expand high-speed broadband access and assist in the financing of connectivity projects.”

Two years ago, the Legislature created the Broadband Development Office to coordinate the expansion of high-speed internet to less populous areas of the state. This year, it created a fund to finance some of that expansion.

The body itemized $1.5 billion for the fund to disperse should voters give it the green light.

Proponents of the item say that state offsetting of costs is required to make such expansion economically feasible for companies where the infrastructure costs run high and the consumer base runs low.

Opponents say that the state’s broadband expansion strategy doesn’t sufficiently account for technological changes, such as satellite internet services like Starlink, which some claim will make endeavors significantly cheaper than running cables to all corners of the state.

Proposition 9 – Retired teacher cost-of-living adjustment

Ballot language: “The constitutional amendment authorizing the 88th Legislature to provide a cost-of-living adjustment to certain annuitants of the Teacher Retirement System of Texas.”

The Texas Legislature allocated $3.3 billion to pay for the first cost-of-living adjustment to retired teachers in two decades. Under the enabling legislation, Teacher Retirement System pensioners aged 75 or older would receive a $7,500 supplemental payment. Those between 70 and 75 would receive a supplemental payment of $2,400.

But with the proposition’s passage, it’d also provide a percentage increase in benefits that amounts to:

6 percent for anyone who retired before August 31, 2001

4 percent for anyone who retired between August 31, 2001 and August 31, 2013

2 percent for anyone who retired between August 31, 2013 and August 31, 2020

Proponents say that it’s long past time for retired teachers to get a cost-of-living-adjustment as inflation has made it increasingly difficult to survive on the stagnant pension benefits.

TLC said that no opposition was registered during the process, but some criticism has been made elsewhere that the tweak does not sufficiently change the pension system’s defined benefit style to make headway on its $51 billion in unfunded liabilities — money promised but not accounted for at current funding levels.

The Legislature did use some of its surplus to reduce those unfunded liabilities this year, but it stopped short of changing the mechanism to a “cash balance” plan that caps the number of benefits a recipient can receive in their lifetime; the body made this change with the Employee Retirement System in 2021.

Proposition 10 – Medical product tax exemption

Ballot language: “The constitutional amendment to authorize the legislature to exempt from ad valorem taxation equipment or inventory held by a manufacturer of medical or biomedical products to protect the Texas healthcare network and strengthen our medical supply chain.”

Texas has a business personal property tax exemption of $2,500 that applies to the value of a business’s product or the tools it uses to conduct its operations, such as forklifts, stoves, and cash registers. This proposition would exempt all such property used by businesses in the state’s medical supply chain.

Proponents say this would be another tool in attracting medical manufacturing to build operations in the state.

TLC said no opposition was registered, but a similar criticism could be applied here as above for the child-care facility proposition.

Proposition 11 – El Paso conservation fund and reclamation district

Ballot language: “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.”

One of the two local-focused amendments, this proposal would authorize certain entities in El Paso County to issue bonds supported by property taxes for the expansion of its parks and recreational system.

Proponents say it’s necessary for the county to expand and maintain the recreational services the county wants to provide its residents. 

Opponents say it creates another method of taxation and empowers another kind of local government with spending authority.

Both statewide voters and El Paso County voters must approve the measure for it to become effective.

Proposition 12 – Abolishment of Galveston County Treasurer’s Office

Ballot language: “The constitutional amendment providing for the abolition of the office of county treasurer in Galveston County.”

The other local item is the subject of a prolonged effort in Galveston County to nix its treasurer's office as an elected position and move its responsibilities to another office.

Current Galveston County Treasurer Hank Dugie ran on the issue and won, becoming the face of the idea ever since; the initial spark for the cause was a 2018 incident in which the treasurer paid a $525,000 invoice from an email scammer.

Proponents like Dugie say the office is unnecessary and its past failures warrant elimination.

Opponents, such as the County Treasurer’s Association of Texas, say keeping the office as an elected one makes it more responsive to the voters.

If passed, Galveston County would be the 11th in Texas to eliminate its treasurer’s office by way of a constitutional amendment.

Proposition 13 – Mandatory retirement age increase for judges

Ballot language: “The constitutional amendment to increase the mandatory age of retirement for state justices and judges.”

Currently, state justices and judges cannot seek re-election after they reach the age of 75. This proposition would increase that to 79 and make 75 the floor that the Legislature can set in the future.

Proponents say that as lifespans and the length of mental competency increase, judges should be able to do their job longer than current law allows.

TLC said no opposition was registered.

Proposition 14 – Centennial Parks Conservation Fund

Ballot language: “The constitutional amendment providing for the creation of the centennial parks conservation fund to be used for the creation and improvement of state parks.”

Similar to the other fund-creations, this item would establish a constitutional fund to finance state park maintenance and expansion. The Legislature itemized $1 billion for an initial deposit into the fund should voters approve it.

Specifically, it is intended to enable the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to purchase acreage that would expand the state’s current nature preserve footprint.

Proponents, according to the TLC, say “Establishing a dedicated state fund for the purchase of land to develop new state parks would provide a stable and long-term funding source that will empower the state to protect Texas’ unique natural resources and cultural history while making them accessible to our growing population.”

While no opposition was registered according to TLC, some lawmakers voted against the proposal on the grounds that it would expand the amount of land owned by the state, potentially by way of eminent domain purchases from landowners who do not want to sell at the wrong end of it.

Dan Butcher

Dan Butcher (aka HP Pundit) is not a Democrat or Republican. He is a free thinking independent bringing you news and commentary with a dose of much needed common sense.

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