November 5, 2019 Election Ballot Explained: Texas Constitutional Amendments

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TEXAS CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS - 2019

Ten state constitutional amendments were approved by the Legislature during this year’s session and will appear on the statewide ballot Nov. 5. In order to appear on the ballot, the proposed amendments must be approved by at least two-thirds of the members of both the Texas Senate and the Texas House of Representatives. Constitutional amendments give voters the opportunity to directly impact the state constitution and essentially shape the future of our great state.

Below are the 10 propositions you will find on the ballot with pros and cons for each pulled from summaries of written and oral testimony before the various legislative committee hearings on each amendment.

Voter Registration Deadline: Oct. 7

Early Voting: Oct. 21 - Nov. 1

Election Day: Nov. 5

 PROPOSITION 1:

House Joint Resolution 72

“The constitutional amendment permitting a person to hold more than one office as a municipal judge at the same time.”

EXPLAINED: Municipal court judges adjudicate city ordinance violations and certain misdemeanor criminal cases. The proposition would permit elected municipal court judges to serve multiple municipalities at the same time. Currently, only appointed municipal court judges can serve multiple jurisdictions at the same time.

Pro:  Amendment would make it easier for small municipalities to hire qualified judges on a part-time basis.  It would make it easier to obtain search warrants and streamline proceedings regarding ordinance violations, and misdemeanor offenses.

Con:  Amendment is unnecessary because a person can be appointed as a municipal judge in more than one jurisdiction at a time.  If the municipal judge is not from the community, they may not be familiar with or able to address local concerns.

 

 PROPOSITION 2:

Senate Joint Resolution 79

“The constitutional amendment providing for the issuance of additional general obligation bonds by the Texas Water Development Board in an amount not to exceed $200 million to provide financial assistance for the development of certain projects in economically distressed areas.”

EXPLAINED: This would allow the Texas Water Development Board to issue bonds to fund water and wastewater infrastructure projects in areas where median household income is at or below 75% of the statewide median income level.

Pro: Lack of clean, safe water can lead to health issues. This program needs to be replenished so it can continue funding existing and future projects for communities that could not otherwise afford it. 

Con: This is another constitutionally dedicated fund, which the state should avoid. Infrastructure improvements should be funded using general revenue. This is a local issue and should not be handled by the state. 

 PROPOSITION 3: 

House Joint Resolution 34

“The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to provide for a temporary exemption from ad valorem taxation of a portion of the appraised value of certain property damaged by a disaster.”

EXPLAINED: This would allow the Legislature to create temporary property tax exemptions for people with property damaged in governor-declared disaster areas. The Legislature would be able to pass laws determining the eligibility requirements for exemptions, as well as the duration and amount of any write-offs.

Pro:  In the event of environmental disasters, a tax exemption would bring quicker and easier relief to those affected.  The amendment would be easier and more affordable for the local government than the current property reassessment process, which is both lengthy and expensive.

Con:  Though there would now be predetermined damage categories, the property may still have to undergo an extensive reappraisal process.  Local appraisal process already provides for adjusting the value of the damaged property, this Amendment is not necessary.

 PROPOSITION 4:

House Joint Resolution 38 

“The constitutional amendment prohibiting the imposition of an individual income tax, including a tax on an individual’s share of partnership and unincorporated association income.”

EXPLAINED: In order for future lawmakers to enact a personal income tax, it would require support from two-thirds of the House and Senate and a majority of Texas voters. Currently, the state Constitution requires that any proposal be approved by a majority of lawmakers in the House and Senate and a majority of voters in a statewide referendum.

Pro:  A yes vote prevents the legislature from enacting an income tax.  Polls show 71% of respondents oppose an individual state income tax. Texas has a low-tax, pro-growth approach to economic expansion, and that is dependent on having no personal income tax.  An income tax would also increase the size of state government as it has the federal government and other states with an income tax.

Con:  Amendment is not necessary because the Texas Constitution now prohibits the Legislature from imposing an income tax without a statewide referendum (Art. 8, Sec. 24, adopted in 1993). An Income Tax is less regressive than other taxes collected in Texas.  Texans pay high property and sales taxes because Texas has no income tax.

 PROPOSITION 5:

Senate Joint Resolution 24

“The constitutional amendment dedicating the revenue received from the existing state sales and use taxes that are imposed on sporting goods to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Texas Historical Commission to protect Texas’ natural areas, water quality, and history by acquiring, managing, and improving state and local parks and historic sites while not increasing the rate of the state sales and use taxes.”

EXPLAINED: It would designate all revenue from the sporting goods sales tax go to the state parks and wildlife department and historic commission, as intended when the tax was created in 1993.

Pro:  State and local parks are essential to industries such as fishing, hunting, and tourism that benefit the Texas economy. Amendment would require the government to support this vital economic sector more fully. It would allow these agencies to make long-range plans based on a reliable funding source. Many parks and historic sites of Texas are decaying, and new parks are needed due to population growth in the state.

Con:  Having a dedicated account eliminates budget flexibility for the Texas Legislature.  Dedicated accounts can cause unnecessary growth of the state budget by requiring funds in one area even though needs could be greater in another. 

 PROPOSITION 6: 

House Joint Resolution 12

The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to increase by $3 billion the maximum bond amount authorized for the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas."

EXPLAINED: This would allow the Legislature to double the maximum amount of bonds it can issue on behalf of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, to $6 billion.

Pro: Increasing the bond amount would ensure that the state maintains its status as a world leader in the cancer field, and continue Texas’ national leadership in cancer research and prevention.  CPRIT has created thousands of jobs and brought in more than 170 researchers, including a Nobel Prize winner, to Texas.  It has generated billions of dollars of economic activity.  Current funding for awards will run out in 2021. 

Con:  Current funding of CPRIT is in place until 2022, so the issue is not an urgent matter. Instead, the legislature should require CPRIT to become financially self-sufficient.  This would unduly increase the state’s debt.  CPRIT has a history of mismanaging funds. A ban was put on CPRIT grants in 2012 and was lifted in October 2013 after restructuring of the organization.

 PROPOSITION 7: 

House Joint Resolution 151

 “The constitutional amendment allowing increased distributions to the available school fund from $300 million to $600 million per year.”

EXPLAINED: This would allow the General Land Office, the State Board of Education and other entities to double the amount of revenue they can provide the Available School Fund that provides classroom materials and funding for Texas schools.

Pro: This proposition will improve funding for public schools by doubling the distribution from the School Land Board to the Available School Fund.  As more money is available to school districts from the state Available School Fund, they should need to rely less on local property taxes.

Con: If the School Land Board makes larger deposits directly to the Available School Fund rather than into the Permanent School Fund, it changes the amount the State Board of Education is required to distribute from the Permanent School Fund.  In the past, the School Land Board made questionable investments at the expense of public education funding. With the opportunity to make larger contributions, it might increase the lure of debatable investments.

 PROPOSITION 8: 

House Joint Resolution 4

“The constitutional amendment providing for the creation of the flood infrastructure fund to assist in the financing of drainage, flood mitigation, and flood control projects.”

EXPLAINED: This would create a flood infrastructure fund that the Texas Water Development Board could use to finance projects following a disaster.

Pro:  Severe flooding events such as Hurricane Harvey show the necessity of being prepared to prevent future damage.  Access to federal funding and grants usually requires local governments to provide a monetary match to the federal grant, which some communities cannot afford. The proposed amendment would allow the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) to give loans to local governments so they could access federal funds or develop flood mitigation projects no eligible for federal grants.  Because removing money from the Economic Stabilization Fund to create the Flood Infrastructure Fund (FIF) would be a one-time expense, rather than ongoing, it would not drain the “rainy day fund.”

Con:  A local government could default on a TWDB loan, thereby costing the state income meant to replenish the FIF. Taxpayers might ultimately be liable for the repayment of loans. Historically, the state government has not played a heavy role in funding flood-control infrastructure. Using money from the “rainy day fund” to establish the FIF could be inappropriate because only one-time expenses or funds for disaster response should be funded by the “rainy day fund.” Because the FIF itself is an ongoing project, it should be funded from general revenue.

 PROPOSITION 9: 

House Joint Resolution 95

“The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to exempt from ad valorem taxation precious metal held in a precious metal depository located in this state.”

EXPLAINED: Allows the state legislature to create a property tax exemption for precious metals held in state depositories — like the Texas Bullion Depository, scheduled to open next year in Leander.

Pro:  Other states do not tax precious metals, so creating this exemption would allow Texas depositories to be more competitive.    

Con:  Texas counties do not enforce the property tax on precious metals, so a constitutional amendment is unnecessary.  The proposed amendment essentially is picking winners and losers in the investment business, which should be avoided.

 PROPOSITION 10: 

Senate Joint Resolution 32

“The constitutional amendment to allow the transfer of a law enforcement animal to a qualified caretaker in certain circumstances.”

EXPLAINED: Would allow for former handlers or qualified caretakers to adopt retired law enforcement animals without a fee

Pro:  Amendment would ensure the well-being of law enforcement animals in their later years by allowing them to retire.  The amendment would remove the legally required fee for law enforcement officers, or other qualified caretakers, who generally adopt their own law enforcement animals.  Amendment recognizes the longstanding bond developed between a law enforcement animal and the animal’s handler and would allow the continuation of that bond.

Con:  There was no opposition to the Amendment expressed in the Committee Hearings.