Texas voters approve several statewide ballot measures

It was a relatively calm night for statewide ballot propositions, with most passing easily and only one, a mandatory retirement age increase for judges, failing — the first time voters rejected a statewide proposition since 2019.

Overall turnout was 14.4 percent, which according to the secretary of state is the highest voter turnout for a constitutional amendment election since 2005.

That one failed measure, Proposition 13, would have increased the mandatory retirement age for state judges and justices from 75 to 79. It failed 37 percent to 63 percent with a 629,000-voter margin.

A fascinating real-world implication of the result is that Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht, who’s served on the bench for 35 years and spent a decade in his current spot, will be forced to retire when his term ends in 2026.

Under current law, if a judge hits age 75 during the first four years of their six-year term, they are forced to vacate their seat, which is then filled by a gubernatorial appointment. If the age of 75 is reached during the last two years of the term, they may finish it out.

The proposition would have raised the age to 79 and removed the fourth-year provision, allowing terms to be finished out regardless of when the new age limit was hit.

Those that passed overwhelmingly were:

Proposition 1 – Establishing a right to farming, ranching, and other similar activities in the Texas

Proposition 2 – Allowing localities to exempt from taxation the property of child-care businesses

Proposition 3 – Prohibiting a wealth tax in Texas

Proposition 4 – Approving the Legislature’s $13 billion property tax relief deal

Proposition 5 – Creating a severance tax fund for state universities that aren’t the University of Texas (UT) or Texas A&M University

Proposition 6 – Creating a fund to pay for expansions of the state’s water supply

Proposition 7 – Creating a fund to finance low-interest loans and bonuses to companies for the construction of dispatchable power plants in ERCOT

Proposition 8 – Creating a fund to finance expansions of broadband service into sparsely populated areas of the state

Proposition 9 – Granting retired teachers a bonus payment and a cost-of-living adjustment

Proposition 11 – Allowing the El Paso reclamation and conservation districts to issue property tax-supported bonds and associated spending

Proposition 14 – Creating a fund to pay for maintenance and expansion of the state’s park system
The three infrastructure funds are attempts to help the state cope with its booming population growth that has stretched thin utilities across the board.

Proposition 1, the right to farm, is also a response to population growth that has caused new populations to butt up against existing agricultural operations — an introduction that can cause friction both ways. That dynamic is on full display in the ongoing dispute at the Texas Supreme Court over an East Texas chicken factory about which neighbors have complained of noxious odors.

The measure will preclude local governments from enacting regulations that impede the agricultural industry’s ability to produce, though it’s ultimately a question of competing interests on a case-by-case basis.

Proposition 5 has been the subject of discussion for years, namely the claim that it’s unfair for UT and A&M to benefit immensely from oil and gas taxes — which are mainly drawn from West Texas’ Permian Basin — while other state universities like Texas Tech University and the University of Houston are left out to dry.

The suggestion of a new fund to help those and other state universities really ramped up during legislative hearings on UT’s absconding out of the Big 12 to the Southeastern Conference. This year, legislators finally dragged that across the finish line.

The two that were fairly close were Proposition 10, which exempts from the business personal property tax certain medical supply chain products and property, and Proposition 12 which will abolish the Galveston County Treasurer’s office.

Proposition 10 passed by 10 points and 248,000 votes, while Proposition 12’s margin of victory was much slimmer at 6 percent and 135,000 votes.

The Galveston County item also had to be approved by voters in that county specifically, who approved it by essentially the same percentage margin as the statewide results registered; had either the state or the local constituency rejected the measure, it would have been rejected.

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