With 14 state propositions on the ballot this fall, voters may not have all the time to study and analyze each of the proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution. Even further complicating matters, the media focus is on the 2024 primaries and the upcoming presidential election.
Fortunately, our friends with The Travis Tracker have you covered! Below is their analysis on each of the propositions, preceded by their suggestions on how to vote (or not vote in two cases). You can do your own homework via the Texas Legislative Council’s thorough analysis.
Scroll all the way down for a “Quickshot Guide” for fast reference or to memorize. Early voting begins Monday, Oct. 23.
FOR — Proposition 1, Right to Farming, Ranching, Timber Production, Horticulture, and Wildlife Management (HJR 126). Farming and ranching is a part of natural landowner rights. And it should remain a right wherever feasible, especially given the rising popularity of urban and vertical farms, and big-city amenities inching ever-closer to the countryside thanks to telework and off-grid technology. Certain conflicts are an inevitable part of this shift in lifestyle. This amendment is a simple-yet-vague declaration of the right to farm, ranch, harvest a tree farm, grow a garden, or even keep bees. It would be place this right in the first article of the Texas Constitution, where these generalities should be. It mostly spends its words laying out what it does not do, e.g. get in the way of local or state goverments doing what it can to assure safety or protect natural resources. Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller strongly supports this proposition, which testifies to its conservative intentions. In farming terms, it may not seem ripe but go ahead and pull it up anyway and we’ll make good use of it.
AGAINST — Proposition 2 — Property Tax Exemption for Childcare Facilities Amendment (SJR 64). Though well-intentioned, the problem here is that most childcare businesses are for-profit and the ones that are not are usually attached to churches and other not-for-profit entities already. Especially the good ones. Government, even local entities, should not play favorites with tax breaks and shift the burden to other private businesses. If property taxes are so high that a child-care facility cannot do business in areas of growing demand then do something to reduce the size and scope of government and lower the tax burden. We understand that during COVID restrictions many childcare facilities benefitted from emergency federal funding — but such funds were designed to be temporary. We urge for-profit daycares concerned for the bottom-line to consider allying with a church or nonprofit or changing their business model to become a nonprofit. See also: Proposition 10.
FOR — Proposition 3 — Prohibit Taxes on Wealth or Net Worth Amendment (HJR 132). Texas does not currently have any form of wealth taxes or a “billionaire tax.” We don’t tax much in the way of assets, aside from property and other exceptions. Texas tends to tax activity and consumption, for the most part, e.g. the 6.25% sales tax, plus up to 2% for local entities, and the motor fuels tax. While Texas has Republican leadership for now, if that changes anytime soon the temptation will be to tax one’s financial assets, including stocks and bonds. Eight states have implemented it this year alone. Although we typically prefer to keep options open for the future, this is an option that we don’t want — ever – which would drive more economic activity underground.
FOR — Proposition 4 — Property Tax Changes and State Education Funding Amendment (HJR 2). This is also known as the property tax compression amendment. Voters have a rare chance to decide on a $100,000 property tax exemption for Texans’ homesteads (e.g. where you live) and establish a temporary 20% limit on year-per-year value increases for one non-homestead property worth $5 million or less. Passage would also require directors of county appraisal boards in counties of more than 75,000 people to serve staggered four-year terms. It would also prevent funds allocated for property tax relief from going against the state’s constitutional spending limit. We wish we could split this amendment up into three or four separate proposals. But for now that homestead exemption is necessary to keep up with inflation costs. Arguments against this proposition rightly say it does nothing to put us on the track toward ending our over-reliance on the property tax, and that it only adds to inflation. We understand that, and this compromise between the House and Senate is far from perfect. But we have to do something now or, in simple terms, many of us are going to get swallowed. The 20% limit will help temporarily ease the burden on small-business landlords, which will have an effect of postponing the skyrocketing increase in rent we’ve seen in recent years. There’s also the matter of our state’s budget surplus being used to “buy down” property taxes — that could easily eat up the amount the state is eligible to spend, so this amendment says that doesn’t count toward the spending limit total (a boring but important detail). Vote for this amendment, but let’s not forget to also vote for elected officials who pledge to reduce the size and scope of government and restrain spending and taxation. Everything else, including this proposition, is just a bandage on an ever-opening wound. Already, many local entities, especially school districts, are raising property taxes in hopes this temporary fix will camoflauge proposed tax hikes locally.
AGAINST — Proposition 5 — Rename State University Research Fund and Establish Ongoing Revenue Source Amendment (HJR 3). This would 1) rename Texas’ National Research University Fund as the Texas University Fund, and 2) assure that institutions in four university systems — Texas Tech University, the University of Houston, the University of North Texas, and Texas State University systems — would qualify for around $200 million for 2024-25, paid for by interest from the Rainy Day Fund. (Texas A&M and University of Texas already benefit from what’s known as the Permanent University Fund, or the PUF, financed by profits from the General Land Office — more on that below.) The original purpose of the fund was to help certain universities achieve National Research University status. Mission accomplished there, and Texas is better off for it. We assume that by continuing this source of funding that certain universities would not have to raise tuition and fees even higher than they have already been raised over the past decade-and-a-half. In theory, anyway. But in reality, this will not happen (as proven by tuition deregulation and an associated sharp rise in tuition and fees). The Legislature as our elected representatives (keep in mind that university Regents are not elected, but appointed) must retain control of the purse strings wherever it can — letting the research fund ride off into the sunset might be a good first step toward that goal. Those in favor of this proposal have pointed out that UT and A&M get preferential treatment when it comes to special funding, so why not give the aforementioned other systems a fund, too? But what about system-independent state universities such as Texas Woman’s University and Texas Southern University? If the goal is to treat public universities more equitably, why not work to increase the portfolio of the PUF and fund non-Aggie and Longhorn institutions with it, rather than approve yet another special fund not accountable to the voters? Too many questions raised with not enough answers for us to support it.
AGAINST — Proposition 6 — Creation of the Water Fund (SJR 75). The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) would oversee this new fund to make strategic investments designed to better manage water supply issues. There are growing number of straws in our aquifers due to the industrial and residential needs of our booming population. We’re going to need some better strategy on how to build reservoirs and other resources for our growing cities in a way that won’t infringe on the rights of smaller and rural communities and water districts. Fully $1 billion would be coming out of general revenue for this, but the amendment requires that at least 25% of it would go toward new water sources, e.g. lakes. However, the Legislature should retain control of this process as the TWDB board is not elected. This process should remain part of the state budget process to avoid local governments and property owners getting stepped on.
AGAINST — Proposition 7 — Creation of State Energy Fund Amendment (SJR 93). Enter: the Texas Energy Fund, which would finance the construction, maintenance and operation of electric generation facilities keep the grid stable. The Public Utility Commission would oversee this fund, but it’s not an elected board. The PUC is appointed by the governor, therefore it’s a step away from public accountability, and is primarily why we suggest voting against Prop. 7. Regardless of whether this passes or fails, we have four new threats to deal with: 1) wanton ideologues such as Congressman Greg Casar who want to connect our grid to the rest of the nation, 2) a pervasive kowtowing to “green guilt,” which subjects our grid to unstable sources as a major part of our electric output, 3) the increasingly real possibility of terrorist and foreign attacks on our infrastructure, and 4) a sharp increase in consumption as more Texans prematurely (thanks to federal intervention) opt for electric vehicles. The growing incompetence of our federal government is only accelerating these risk factors. Responsiveness is needed here, but better planning and budgeting is the answer.
AGAINST — Proposition 8 — Creation of Broadband Infrastructure Fund Amendment (HJR 125). This would allow the Comptroller’s office to oversee a fund to expand broadband Internet in Texas. The Comptroller is elected and accountable to the public, therefore a special fund would not necessarily be out of the question. But we say let the market handle this! This proposition does not do much to manage the quality of the infrastructure to be built — are we talking high-capacity fiber lines or wireless? And if wireless, won’t open-market services such as Starlink solve much of the dilemma in short time? Here’s where voting for it becomes tempting: the federal government via the BEAD program offers to match state funds on a 4:1 basis. That’s money Texas would be turning down by voting against. But consider that Texas has already allocated $600 million to broadband, which means we could have a new bureaucracy with a vague mission and billions of dollars — all at the disposal of the Comptroller and any federal strings attached. Alternative: next session, provide temporary tax breaks and other incentives for ISPs to expand high-speed service in the hinterlands.
FOR — Proposition 9, Cost-of-Living Adjustments for Teacher Retirement System Amendment (HJR 2). Attention class: Prop. 9 would offer a COLA (or cost-of-living adjustment) for former teachers getting pensions, which they haven’t received in 20 years we’re told. Teachers who retired before 2001 would get a 6% adjustment, those who retired between 2001-13 would get a 4% adjustment, and those who retired between 2013-20 would get a 2% adjustment — theoretically to adjust for inflation. While this probably won’t actually stop inflation from gobbling up any benefits of this amendment, our teachers are usually on the short end of the stick, and especially the retired ones. Give them this. But keep your expectations very low here. It’s just a turn of the wrench on a more widespread economic malfunction.
AGAINST — Proposition 10 — Tax Exemption on Medical Equipment and Inventory Amendment (SJR 87). Designed to strengthen the medical and biomedical industries by waiving taxes for medical equipment. In short: this is favoritism. As with Proposition 2, it would distort the market and hoist the burden onto other business taxpayers. This protectionist measure is intended to keep jobs from being shipped overseas, which is understandable, albeit flawed because it does nothing to address the reasons why medical and biomedical jobs are leaving the U.S. See also our reasoning on Proposition 2.
LEAVE BLANK (unless you live in El Paso County) — Proposition 11 — Authorize Bond Issues in Conservation and Reclamation Districts in El Paso County Amendment (SJR 32). This requires an amendment to the Texas Constitution because it involves subdivisions of the state and their ability to raise revenue. We generally advise staying out of these local decisions unless it affects you somehow or it plays favorites with the market. In this case, it would seem that there are already numerous, similar districts across Texas that have issued bond debt to create some impressive parks and other amenities, so it’s not unfair to the rest of Texas. But let’s defer the list of pros and cons to our fellow Texans living on Mountain Standard Time.
LEAVE BLANK (unless you live in Galveston County) — Proposition 12 — Abolish Galveston County Treasurer Amendment (HJR 134). Just like it says, this would totally eliminate the Galveston County Treasurer’s Office and give responsibilities to other offices — an option offered to all Texas counties. We can all vote on this one, but it reportedly only goes into effect if a majority of Galveston County residents approve it. So we gladly defer to them. But here’s a little advice to the locals: a county treasurer is helpful when you’re small and need the extra hand and some added accountability. But as a county grows there are numerous other employees in the County Judge’s office, the Auditor’s office, and in other nooks and crannies of the courthouse who can do the job with a more direct line to the chain of command. Determine first whether your county government is big enough to take this step.
FOR — Proposition 13 — Increase Mandatory Retirement Age for State Judges Amendment (HJR 107). The so-called “Nathan Hecht Amendment,” so named for a longtime Texas Supreme Court Justice near retirement age, asks voters whether the mandatory retirement range should be between 70-75 years old (vote against to maintain this) or 75-79 years old (vote for it to increase the age). This would apply to all justices and judges on appellate, district, and criminal district courts — elected or appointed. An argument against this is married to the concept of term limits and making sure officials do not linger in office too long — but we do not believe that should be the reason to oppose Prop. 13. We’re living longer and healthier, plus age is a relative factor when it comes to health and vitality. Why not keep voter options open for a capable, elderly judge with wisdom of years?
AGAINST — Proposition 14 — Creation of the Centennial Parks Conservation Fund Amendment (SJR 74) Creation of the Texas Centennial Parks Conservation Fund. Centennial refers to 100 years of the Texas parks department. Maintaining a parks system is a proper function of government, even if not an essential one. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department would be in charge of this new purse, dedicated solely to facilities improvement and land acquisition, to funded by an initial $1 billion in general revenue and private sector donations. TPWD generally does a world-class job on its facilities, so it would not be the end of the world should this pass. But the TPWD board is not elected by the public, and is therefore a step away from direct voter accountability.
11 Leave blank
12 Leave blank
Y = Yes, vote For
N = No, vote Against
Leave blank = do not vote on this unless you live in the affected jurisdiction
This article originally appeared in The Travis Tracker, a central Texas conservative Republican news source.