Study The Amendments Before You Vote!
November 3rd Constitutional Amendment
Pros: The proposed amendment provides much-needed tax relief by increasing the amount of the mandatory school district residence homestead exemption, likely reducing the amount of taxes paid by a homeowner over the average lifetime of homeownership by thousands of dollars. By making the exemption effective for 2015 taxes, the proposed amendment ensures that the benefits of the increased homestead exemption are felt immediately. Even if the homestead exemption increase does not result in an outright reduction in the property tax burden because of appraisal increases, it will reduce the rate of growth in property taxes on residence homesteads, thereby providing needed tax relief to homeowners.
Cons: The increase in the mandatory school district residence homestead exemption will provide only nominal property tax relief for homeowners and reduce property taxes for the average homeowner by about $126 a year. Increases in appraisals and local property tax rates may mean that no actual reduction in property taxes occurs, merely a reduction in the rate of growth of property taxes. While the homestead exemption increase will provide only nominal property tax relief for any individual homeowner and no relief at all for those who do not own their own homes, it will cost the state $1.24 billion every two years to make up the revenue loss for school districts. That is in addition to the $8.4 billion a year the state already spends for tax relief provided in prior years that likewise never materialized because of rising appraisals and tax rates. The state may not continue to generate revenue surpluses sufficient to make up the revenue loss to school districts arising from the homestead exemption increase. Property taxes are a local matter. The best way to control local property taxes is for voters to hold local officials accountable.
Pros: Current law unintentionally and inequitably creates two classes of surviving spouses of totally disabled veterans: the surviving spouse of a totally disabled veteran who died on or after January 1, 2010, is eligible to receive a property tax exemption if that spouse meets certain qualifications, while the surviving spouse of a totally disabled veteran who died before January 1, 2010, is not eligible to receive that exemption. The proposed amendment corrects that problem and recognizes that the sacrifice made by a totally disabled veteran and the person’s surviving spouse is the same regardless of the date on which the disabled veteran died. In addition, the fiscal effect of the proposed amendment and the enabling legislation on taxing units would be minimal, while the benefit to the family of any individual disabled veteran who died before 2010 would be considerable.
Cons: The proposed amendment would decrease property tax revenue available to school districts, municipalities, counties, and other taxing units to provide essential services and would impose a burden on the state to the extent the state makes up the revenue loss to school districts. Additionally, because military families tend to reside in proximity to military bases and facilities in this state, property tax exemptions for disabled veterans and their families disproportionally affect certain areas of the state and have a greater effect on the ability of taxing units in those areas to raise sufficient revenue to provide essential services as well as on the distribution of the tax burden in those areas.
Pros: The proposed amendment would allow certain state officers elected by the voters statewide to maintain a residency at a location in this state other than Austin, the state capital, and reduce the burden the state capital residency requirement places on the officers and their families. The capital residency requirement was included in the 1876 Texas Constitution when state officers traveled to the state capital by horse and buggy and has not been amended since. State officers’ duties extend to locations other than the state capital, and performance of those duties may require the officers to spend a majority of their time away from Austin. Any state officer who, as a result of the lack of a state capital residency requirement, fails to spend sufficient time at the state capital is accountable to the voters at the next election. Further, the residency requirement creates for statewide offices an elite class of candidates who live in or can afford to move to Austin. Finally, a majority of the other states in the United States do not require their state officers to reside at the seat of government.
Cons: The amendment would allow state officers, who are serving in full-time paid positions, to be physically present at the state capital infrequently and to possibly neglect their duties of office. Essentially, state officers serve as the chief operating officers for their respective state agencies, which have central offices in Austin, and the officers’ duties require the officers to be available to the agency employees serving in Austin. State officers are often required to conduct statewide business at the seat of government, and residency in a location other than Austin would likely increase the state-reimbursed travel expenses of the officers. Finally, a state officer, by maintaining a residence away from the state capital, may be able to select a residence based on the officer’s perception that the location would provide a more favorable venue than Travis County for any legal action brought against the officer.
Pros: The amendment would allow professional sports team charitable foundations in this state to highlight the team’s philanthropic activities, bring awareness to community needs, encourage sports fans to contribute to worthy causes, and raise additional money for the foundation’s charitable purposes. Under current law, nonprofit organizations may annually conduct not more than two charitable raffles. The proposed amendment merely increases the number of raffles the affected charitable foundations may conduct and authorizes cash payments. Several other states that are home to professional sports teams authorize the teams to conduct similar charitable raffles.
Cons: The passage of H.J.R. 73 will expand gambling in Texas. There is concern that this will lead to future expansions of gambling through the use of electronic displays to conduct electronic raffles at sporting venues and to expand other electronic gambling at bingo establishments, horse tracks, or greyhound racetracks.
Pros: The proposed amendment would give rural counties and private landowners in those counties more flexibility to update private roads that are poorly maintained. 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. The proposed amendment would include approximately 20 additional counties with populations between 5,000 and 7,500. The population limitation is necessary to prevent populous counties from competing with the private road construction industry. However, in the rural counties that would be covered by the proposed amendment, there are no private industries with which to compete, and counties should be allowed to deal with minor projects to maintain road safety. It would not be profitable for private companies to travel to rural counties for minor projects.
Cons: Instead of increasing the maximum population threshold for counties allowed to perform private road work under Section 52f, Article III, the population limit should be eliminated. All counties in the state should have the option to construct and maintain private roads in the county as long as private landowners agree and pay the county for the cost of the work.
Pros: Supporters of the amendment feel that animal rights groups and anti-hunting activists may try to impose stricter limits on hunting and fishing in this state, and supporters therefore seek constitutional protection for those activities as a preventive measure to preserve the opportunity to hunt and fish for future generations. Protecting hunting and fishing would also guard the economic benefit enjoyed by the state from revenue generated by those activities because the surrounding industry contributes to employment, investment, and tax revenue. Additionally, industry related to hunting and fishing results in increased funding for conservation efforts and provides an incentive to landowners to maintain habitat, including open spaces, for game and nongame animals. By specifically including traditional methods of hunting, fishing, and harvesting wildlife, and stating that hunting and fishing are preferred methods of managing and controlling wildlife, the proposed amendment does not prohibit the use of other methods and would still allow the prohibition of methods that are not sporting or that could endanger wildlife populations.
Cons: Opponents of the amendment feel that the amendment is unnecessary because there is no threat to hunting and fishing in this state. Efforts to enact the amendment as a preventive measure may in fact spur groups opposed to hunting and fishing to begin activity in response. A constitutionally stated preference for the use of hunting and fishing to control and manage wildlife may force regulations to change in a way that would make it more difficult to achieve a balanced ecosystem. While other methods of control might be more appropriate in certain situations, those methods might have to give way to the constitutional preference. The amendment causes confusion between a person’s protected right to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife and the role of the state and federal government in enacting laws that regulate those activities. The line between regulation and right is unclear.
Pros: The proposed amendment would provide a consistent and reliable source of funding for transportation projects in the state. This state’s current transportation system is inefficient and in poor repair in many areas, which has a negative effect on the state’s economy. Large transportation projects can take many years to complete and may include unforeseen costs, making it impractical to disburse the entire cost of a project at one time. The current practice of funding such projects using biennial appropriations, however, can lead to delays when an expected appropriation is not received or has to be spent for debt service. The state needs a predictable, dedicated revenue source that allows for future planning to address the state’s infrastructure demands. The proposed amendment would provide that source of funding so that existing projects can be completed and new projects can be planned up to 10 years in advance and started in areas that will lead to the greatest return on the state’s monetary investment. Although the dedication of state tax revenue to the state highway fund reduces the amount of revenue that would otherwise be available for general state purposes, the proposed amendment contains mechanisms by which the dedicated revenue would be available for those general purposes if needed.
Cons: The proposed amendment, which would constitutionally dedicate billions of dollars of state tax revenue each year only to transportation-related projects and the payment of transportation-related debt, would tie the hands of future legislatures during a time when the legislature has discretion over less than 20 percent of the state’s budget. This could lead to the state being required to make substantial cuts in essential state services, such as public education and health and human services, in the event of a downturn in the state’s economy. There are better alternatives for providing transportation funding that would not affect the state’s ability to respond to future budget crises. There is currently a considerable budget surplus available to the legislature that could be appropriated for transportation projects. In addition, the rates of other taxes the revenue from which is already dedicated to transportation could be increased to provide additional funding.