Beginning Monday, voters across Texas can begin casting early ballots to decide the fates of 10 proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution. Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 5.
Of special interest among many voters are Proposition 4 related to imposing a state income tax, and Proposition 5 related to state parks funding and use of the outdoor sales tax revenues.
Following are the 10 propositions with arguments for and against each, as provided by the League of Women Voters of Texas:
Proposition 1 (HJR 72)
“The constitutional amendment permitting a person to hold more than one office as a municipal judge at the same time.”
• A municipal judge oversees essential local proceedings, such as pretrial hearings, small claims proceedings, and misdemeanor cases. Often smaller municipalities do not have municipal judges or attorneys qualified to serve as judges. Prop 1 would make it easier for smaller municipalities to fill empty judgeships with qualified individuals.
• The proposition could benefit public safety by making it easier to obtain search warrants and streamlining other proceedings, such as ordinance violations, misdemeanor offenses and other types of cases.
• This proposition is unnecessary as Texas law already permits a person to be appointed as a municipal judge in more than one municipality at the same time. This law would only allow a person to be elected in more than one municipality.
• If the municipal judge were elected to a community where he or she was not a resident, he or she may not have an understanding or interest in that community.
Proposition 2 (SJR 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.”
• All citizens deserve clean water, regardless of their income. Socioeconomic factors should not determine access to safe water. It’s a basic right.
• This program needs to be replenished so it can continue funding existing and future projects for communities that could not otherwise afford it.
• Financing with bonds will provide more reliable funding over a longer period of time. Using general revenue would strain limited resources.
• The net impact to the general revenue fund will be $3,375,000 through 2021.
• 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 (HJR 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.”
• In the event of environmental disasters, a tax exemption would bring quicker and easier relief to those affected.
• Proposition 3 would be easier and more affordable for the local government than the current property reassessment process, which is both lengthy and expensive.
• Since Proposition 3 relies on the local government to decide whether or not to adopt the tax exemption, it does not guarantee it will help as many people as intended. Any such relief should be mandatory.
• Though there would now be predetermined damage categories, the property may still have to undergo an extensive reappraisal process.
Proposition 4 (HJR 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.”
• A 2019 poll by the University of Texas at Austin and the Texas Tribune found 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.
• This amendment could support population growth in Texas, as families and businesses may move to Texas because there is no state income tax.
• An income tax would also increase the size of government by requiring a large bureaucracy to administer it.
• This 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). In addition, any net revenue from that tax must be used for the support of education.
• Revenue from an income tax could reduce the tax burden on businesses, which pay a higher proportion of taxes in Texas than in other states.
• The current Legislature and today’s voters should not make taxation decisions for future Texans. The needs of Texans change over time, so future Texans should make their own choices on taxation.
• One reason Texans pay high property and sales taxes may be because Texas has no income tax. If Proposition 4 passed, these taxes would likely continue to increase, so Proposition 4 would not necessarily decrease the size of state government.
Proposition 5 (SJR 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.”
• State and local parks are essential to industries such as fishing, hunting, and tourism that benefit Texas economy. Proposition 5 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. Proposition 5 would provide a sustainable source of funding for their preservation and new park development so they could be enjoyed in the future.
• Having a dedicated account, a fund used for a specific purpose, eliminates budget flexibility for the Texas Legislature.
• Dedicated accounts can cause unnecessary growth of the state budget by demanding funds in one area even though needs could be greater in another.
Proposition 6 (HJR 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.”
• The state is the second largest source of public funding for cancer research in Texas, behind the federal government. Increasing the bond amount would ensure that the state maintained its status as a hub for advancements 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.
Increasing the bond amount would protect CPRIT’s future, because current funding for awards will run out in 2021.
• Current funding of CPRIT is in place until 2022, so the issue is not an urgent matter. Voters may not want to consider it right now—three years in advance. Instead the legislature might consider developing a plan to make CPRIT become financially self-sufficient.
• 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.
• The proposed amendment would cost the government $12.5 million in general revenue funds during the first two years, assuming debt service payments based on the issuance of this new debt.
Proposition 7 (HJR 151)
“The constitutional amendment allowing increased distributions to the available school fund.”
• This proposition will improve funding for public schools by doubling the distribution from the School Land Board to the Available School Fund.
• Were it not for the $300 million cap in the Texas Constitution, this could have been happening already, making more money available for public education.
• As more money is available to school districts from the state Available School Fund, they should need to rely less on local property taxes.
• Both the School Land Board and the State Board of Education have responsibilities for managing the Permanent School Fund. 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.
• The State Board of Education is required to make a percentage-based biennial distribution to the Available School Fund. If they have less money in the Permanent School Fund, it might result in lower overall school funding.
• 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 (HJR 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.”
• Severe flooding events such as Hurricane Harvey show the necessity of being prepared to prevent future damage.
• Access to federal funding and grants often requires local governments to match the amount of money the federal government would provide. The proposed amendment would allow the TWDB to give loans to local governments so they could access federal funds.
• Removing money from the Economic Stabilization Fund to create the FIF would be a one-time expense, rather than ongoing, it would not drain the “rainy day fund.”
• 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 repayment of loans.
• Historically, state government has not played a heavy role in funding flood-control infrastructure. Flood control is the responsibility of both local and federal governments, rather than state government.
• 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 removed from the “rainy day fund.” Because the FIF itself is an ongoing project, funds to create it should be taken from general revenue.
Proposition 9 (HJR 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.”
• Other states do not tax precious metals, so creating this exemption would allow Texas depositories to be more competitive.
• The proposed amendment would increase chances that the Texas depository could join COMEX, the leading marketplace for precious metals exchange.
• Texas counties do not enforce the property tax on precious metals, so a constitutional amendment is unnecessary.
• The proposed amendment gives preference through a tax break for precious metals over other investment choices.
Proposition 10 (SJR 32)
“The constitutional amendment to allow the transfer of a law enforcement animal to a qualified caretaker in certain circumstances.”
• Proposition 10 would ensure the well-being of law enforcement animals in their later years by allowing them to retire.
• Proposition 10 would remove the legally required fee for law enforcement officers, or other qualified caretakers, who generally adopt their own retired law enforcement animals.
• Proposition 10 recognizes the longstanding bond developed between a law enforcement animal and the animal’s handler, a bond that would be ignored in a government auction.
• Proposition 10 may reduce state income. A government auction might raise more money than the free adoption of a law enforcement animal.
• If the animal’s handler retires before the animal is ready to retire, it might be difficult to determine which of the animal’s handlers had priority.
• It is unfortunate that such a common sense action would require a constitutional amendment.