Proposed Amendments to the Texas Constitution

October 17, 2011

PROPOSED AMENDMENTS TO THE TEXAS CONSTITUTION

 

This year the Texas Legislature voted to place several amendments to the Texas Constitution on the November ballot.  Texas voters will go to the polls on November 8th to decide the fate of ten proposed amendments.  Early voting begins October 24th and ends November 4th.  Find polling place information at www.votexas.org/where.html.

 

Amendment No. 1 (S.J.R. 14):  Authorizes the Legislature to extend an existing home property tax exemption for 100 percent or totally disabled veterans to their surviving spouses.  Supporters say this  proposed amendment would recognize the sacrifices made by disabled veterans and their surviving spouses.  The surviving spouses often forgo career opportunities and reduce their work hours, affecting their income and retirement benefits, and thereby their ability to pay property taxes.  Opponents say this amendment would reduce revenue for local governments.

 

Amendment No. 2 (S.J.R. 4):  Approves the issuance of general obligation bonds by the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) in an amount not to exceed $6 billion.  This bond program would allow TWDB greater flexibility in targeting the state's water needs across a longer time frame. Supporters say the increase in Texas' population and the persistent threat of severe drought highlight the need to update water related infrastructure to meet current water needs and to anticipate and plan for future water needs. Without the additional bonding authority, critical water planning and infrastructure upgrades will be greatly impeded or halted altogether.  There was no testimony in opposition to this proposal during House and Senate hearings on this issue.

 

Amendment No. 3 (S.J.R. 50): Allows for the issuance of general obligation bonds by the state to finance educational loans to university students.  Supporters cite recent cuts in federal and state financial aid programs, which likely will increase the demand for student loans and low-interest, fixed-rate loans.  While there was no registered opposition, some observers note that student loan debt exceeds credit card debt nationwide, and question the wisdom of creating new financial obligations.

 

Amendment No. 4 (H.J.R. 63):  Authorizes the Legislature to permit a county to issue bonds or notes to finance the development or redevelopment of an unproductive, underdeveloped or blighted area.  This proposition does not provide authority for increasing property tax rates to repay the bonds.  Supporters say counties should have the same ability as cities and towns to finance needed public improvements in areas that are deteriorating or unproductive and designated as reinvestment zones.  Opponents say that authorizing counties to issue bonds or notes to be repaid with property tax revenue without authority to increase property taxes would create an incentive to appraise property in the zone at a higher value.

 

Amendment No. 5 (S.J.R. 26): Authorizes the legislature to allow cities or counties to enter into contracts with other local governments without the imposition of a tax or the provision of an account set aside to pay debt, also known as a sinking fund.  Supporters say current constitutional provisions requiring the imposition of a tax or creation of a sinking fund when incurring debt prevents local governments from jointly financing and operating consolidated services, such as criminal justice buildings, animal shelters and equipment maintenance facilities. No opposition was registered against this proposal during the legislative session.

 

Amendment No. 6 (H.J.R. 109):  Clarifies references in the Texas Constitution to the Permanent School Fund, allowing the General Land Office (GLO) to distribute funds for public education.  It also reforms the market valuation process of the Permanent School Fund so that its property and assets are taken into account when determining Constitutional limits on its use.  Supporters say the proposed amendment will allow public schools to benefit directly from returns on investments made by the GLO.  It would also allow such funds to be analyzed separately from distributions from the State Board of Education's investment portfolios.  Opponents contend that returns on such investments should be automatically reinvested and that distributing returns from one set of investments would be the same as liquidating a permanent asset to satisfy a short-term need.

 

Amendment No. 7 (S.J.R. 28):  Allows the Legislature to approve conservation and reclamation districts in El Paso County to issue bonds supported by property taxes to fund the development and maintenance of parks and recreational facilities.  Supporters say that the proposed amendment would allow voters to decide whether bonds should be used to improve and maintain the local parks system and help El Paso's underfunded parks district. Opponents say the proposed amendment would allow for higher taxation in El Paso County, which would negatively impact the economic climate.

 

Amendment No. 8 (S.J.R. 16):  Allows property tax appraisals of open-space land devoted to water-stewardship purposes to be based on its productive capacity, rather than on than market value.  Supporters say that this change will provide an incentive for land owners to assist in water conservation without regulation.  Some opponents worry that the proposal could undermine the agricultural-use property valuation.  Others stated that there are already too many tax breaks for land owners.

 

Amendment No. 9 (S.J.R. 9):  Authorizes the governor to grant a pardon to a person who successfully completes a term of deferred adjudication community supervision.  Supporters say that individuals who have committed minor infractions should have the same right to seek a pardon that is currently afforded to violent offenders.  Some opponents believe this legislation would fall short of its intended objective because pardon requests are rarely granted.  Others testified that expunctions should only be granted through existing legal means.

 

 Amendment No. 10 (S.J.R. 37):  Sometimes referred to as the "resign to run" provision, this amendment changes the unexpired term that causes the automatic resignation of certain elected county or district officeholders if they become candidates for another office from 1 year to 1 year and 30 days.  Under this amendment, officeholders will not be penalized for becoming a candidate for public office when there is more than one year left in their term. Because filing periods were changed by the 82nd Legislature, supporters say this amendment will comply with current law by allowing county officials to remain in office while seeking a new post.  No opposition testified against this proposal.