Early voting starts today and lasts through October 30 with Election Day on November 3, and Texans will get to vote for or against seven proposed constitutional amendments. Hardhatters offers our views on all of them.
Proposition 1 – SJR 1
Ballot: “The constitutional amendment increasing the amount of the residence homestead exemption from ad valorem taxation for public school purposes from $15,000 to $25,000, providing for a reduction of the limitation on the total amount of ad valorem taxes that may be imposed for those purposes on the homestead of an elderly or disabled person to reflect the increased exemption amount, authorizing the legislature to prohibit a political subdivision that has adopted an optional residence homestead exemption from ad valorem taxation from reducing the amount of or repealing the exemption, and prohibiting the enactment of a law that imposes a transfer tax on a transaction that conveys fee simple title to real property.”
Explanation: This is a substantial property tax cut for homeowners, which should benefit them greatly. The only caveat is that it does not affect appraisals, so it is possible for the tax cut to never reach the homeowners if local governments increase appraisal values to compensate for the cut.
Proposition 2 – HJR 75
Ballot: “The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to provide for an exemption from ad valorem taxation of all or part of the market value of the residence homestead of the surviving spouse of a 100 percent or totally disabled veteran who died before the law authorizing a residence homestead exemption for such a veteran took effect.”
Explanation: This amendment extends the homestead exemption that applies to the surviving spouse of a totally disabled veteran who died on or after January 1, 2010, to include the surviving spouse of a totally disabled veteran who: died before January 1, 2010; and would have qualified for the full exemption on the homestead’s entire value if it had been available to totally disabled veterans at that time. This offers significant tax relief to families of totally disabled or deceased military veterans.
Proposition 3 – SJR 52
Ballot: “The constitutional amendment repealing the requirement that state officers elected by voters statewide reside in the state capital.”
Explanation: Currently, the State Comptroller, Land Commissioner, Attorney General, and any other official elected statewide must reside within Austin during their terms. They are state executives, and their offices are located within the capital city. This amendment would remove that requirement, allowing them to live anywhere. For example, if this passed, the Land Commissioner could decide to live and work in El Paso, hundreds of miles away from the Land Office’s headquarter and the majority of Texas voters. A state executive should be present at their respective agency headquarters on a daily basis to ensure that their agency’s work is being performed and that they are easily accessible to petitioning citizens. These executives are also paid six-figure salaries (with exception to the Lieutenant Governor) to directly manage these offices and live in the capital. Allowing them to live where they please would significantly diminish their current roles.
Proposition 4 – HJR 73
Ballot: “The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to permit professional sports team charitable foundations to conduct charitable raffles.”
Explanation: Current state law requires that all proceeds all proceeds from the sale of raffle tickets be spent for the charitable purposes of the organization (qualified religious society, volunteer fire department, volunteer emergency medical service, or non-profit organization) and that the charitable raffle be conducted and promoted exclusively by the members of the organization. This amendment would extend that allowance to professional sports team charitable foundations. It could also allow these foundations to advertise and promote these raffles.
Proposition 5 – SJR 17
Ballot: “The constitutional amendment to authorize counties with a population of 7,500 or less to perform private road construction and maintenance.”
Explanation: Current state law allows counties with a population of 5,000 or less to construct and maintain private roads if it imposes a reasonable charge for the work. This amendment increases the population limit to 7,500. This bill would give counties and private landowners more flexibility to update roads that are poorly maintained because many small counties rarely have private contractors available to do the work. Poorly maintained roads create public safety hazards for citizens and emergency services. Private landowners still would have the flexibility to hire a private company instead of the county if they chose to do so.
Proposition 6 – SJR 22
Ballot: “The constitutional amendment recognizing the right of the people to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife subject to laws that promote wildlife conservation.”
Explanation: This amendment would establish hunting, fishing, and harvesting wildlife as a right under the Texas Bill of Rights. Currently, hunting and fishing is a privilege regulated by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. The public trust doctrine, in Texas Parks and Wildlife Code, ch.1, provides that the fish and wildlife of Texas are held in trust by the state for the benefit of all Texans. The amendment would also declare that hunting and fishing are the preferred methods of managing and controlling wildlife, which is debatable.
Proposition 7 – SJR 5
Ballot: “The constitutional amendment dedicating certain sales and use tax revenue and motor vehicle sales, use, and rental tax revenue to the state highway fund to provide funding for non-tolled roads and the reduction of certain transportation-related debt.”
Explanation: The way Texas funds its roadway maintenance and construction is a mess. Currently, 25% of the motor fuels tax is redirected away from roads to the Available School Fund. The sales taxes collected from the sale, rental, and use of vehicles do not even go to roads with 25% going to the foundation school fund and the rest going to the General Fund. This amendment would try to fix the underfunding of roads by redirecting $2.5 billion (starting in 2018) in sales tax revenues from the General Fund to the State Highway Fund once sales tax revenues exceed $28 billion. Starting in 2020, the amendment would take 35% of the motor vehicle sales tax revenues after the first $5 billion collected and put it in the State Highway Fund. These redirections will expire in 2029 and 2032, respectively, so the funding issue will eventually come up again. It’s unfortunate that the Legislature wouldn’t permanently and fully fix the current redirection of funds from the motor fuels and motor vehicle sales taxes. Fortunately, the money redirected in this amendment would not be permitted for creating toll roads.