2011 Constitutional Amendments: Overview of Propositions 1, 2, 3, 4, & 5

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Early voting begins today for the Constitutional Amendments election, and runs through Friday, November 4. Election Day is Tuesday, November 8. Today and tomorrow, Burnt Orange Report will be providing some information about the 10 propositions on the ballot. Our aim is to give an overview of each amendment, as well as varying endorsements from across the state. At the end of the week, BOR will issue our official endorsements on some or all of these amendments.

Background on Constitutional Amendments: The Legislature proposes these amendments in joint resolutions in the House and Senate. They must pass each body by a two-thirds vote, and cannot be vetoed by the governor. The ballot wording of the amendment is specified in the joint resolution itself. The amendments, if approved by the majority of voters, take effect immediately following the official vote canvass, unless a later date is specified in the resolution. For a truly comprehensive look at the amendments and arguments for and against them, I highly recommend the House Research Organization's voter guide. It doesn't endorse, but gives very solid background on each amendment.

Below the jump, read what Amendments 1-5 propose, and how The Austin Chronicle, Burka Blog, El Paso Times, and Empower Texans advise voting on each.  Before you start reading, here's a brief overview of each endorsing entity.

  • The Austin Chronicle: Austin's 30-years-strong weekly alternative paper. The Chronicle is known for a liberal, pro-environmental viewpoint.
  • Burka Blog: Situated on Texas Monthly's website, the Burka Blog is political writer Paul Burka's Internet outpost.
  • El Paso Times: The only English-language daily paper in El Paso, established back in 1881.
  • Empower Texans: Right-wing conservative (c)3 organization helmed by Michael Quinn Sullivan.

I am also including the League of Women Voters Texas overview of each amendment. Thanks to LWV-Texas for taking the time to prepare your voters guide, with arguments for and against each amendment.


Proposition 1: Homestead Exemptions for Disabled Veterans' Surviving Spouses
Ballot Language: “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.”
LWV Overview: “Proposition 1 would let the legislature give a property tax exemption to the surviving spouse of a totally disabled veteran if the property had been exempted from property taxes under the disabled veteran's exemption, if it was the residence of the surviving spouse when the veteran died and remained the surviving spouse's residence homestead thereafter, and if the surviving spouse had not remarried.

This exemption would follow the surviving spouse if a new homestead were purchased and the surviving spouse had not remarried. The exemption would be limited to the dollar amount of the exemption of the previous qualifying homestead.”

Source: Endorsement:
Austin Chronicle: YES. “Although we have traditionally opposed blanket exemptions as inevitably narrowing the common tax base, this one seems hard to object to – granted to the veteran, it should survive to his spouse and is limited to do only that.”
Burka Blog: NO. “I don't suppose that a [yes]vote is going to break the bank, and if anyone is deserving, it is the surviving spouse of a totally disabled veteran. Still, it continues the long legislative tradition of giving tax breaks that undermine the fiscal condition of the state. At some point, the Legislature has to stop handing out tax exemptions. I am going to vote no, on principle.”
El Paso Times: YES. “This is helping out the surviving spouses of those who have sacrificed for their country and who themselves have sacrificed. Being so close to Fort Bliss, we are especially sensitive to the sacrifices made by our service members and their spouses. Also, it will have a negligible effect when it comes to property taxes lost to local governments.”
Empower Texans: YES. “While the state should look to phase out the property tax system and move to a more equitable system like the sales tax, this amendment provides relief to the dependents of our military veterans who have sacrificed so much for our nation.”


Proposition 2: Water Bonds
Ballot Language: “The constitutional amendment providing for the issuance of additional general obligation bonds by the Texas Water Development Board in an amount not to exceed $6 billion at any time outstanding.”
LWV Overview: “The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) makes loans at very low interest rates to cities, towns, water supply corporations, and various other political sub-divisions across the state. These loans are used to finance a variety of local water projects, including infrastructure improvement or water treatment plants. The TWDB's current bonding capacity of $2 billion is not sufficient to meet the needs of local governments that are upgrading infrastructure to meet the growing demand.

The proposed amendment would authorize the TWDB to issue additional bonds as long as the aggregate amount of bonds outstanding did not exceed $6 billion. This ongoing authority is known as “evergreen” authority.

These bonds, if approved, would be self-supporting and not a detriment to the state budget, would not cost the state any money from the general revenue fund, and would not count toward the state's constitutional debt limit. The principal and interest payments on the loans would be paid by the political sub-divisions. The interest paid on the loans funds the agency.”

Source: Endorsement:
Austin Chronicle: YES. “A statutory cap inevitably requires raising, so we can expect eventually to return to the polls on this proposition. However, this law would actually improve on the previous practice of setting a specific, one-time bond limit and requiring a return to the voters whenever it was reached (currently within $266 million of that limit). As long as the TWDB manages the funds responsibly (there was consensus testimony that it has done so), the fund should be flexible enough for some time.”
Burka Blog: NO. “This flies in the face of the pay-as-you-go principle. The Legislature doesn't have the courage to pay for the water plan, so we just put it in on the credit card. There are plenty of ways to pay for the water projects we need without going into debt-taxing bottled water, for one; a tap fee on water for home consumption for another. I know I'll hear from my friend Allan Ritter, but I'm going to vote no. Going into debt is a tax increase. You have to pay off the bondholders.”
El Paso Times: YES. “Water and water infrastructure are critical to Texas' future, and the TWDB makes low-interest loans for water projects. It's conceivable that at some point El Paso could benefit from these loans. Underfunding water projects would be a serious mistake.”
Empower Texans: NO. “This amendment authorizes the TWDB permanent bonding authority without having to come back to the voters for permission to sustain that debt, regardless of circumstances. The creation of a system of permanent debt is not responsible.”


Proposition 3: Low-Interest Student Loans
Ballot Language: “The constitutional amendment providing for the issuance of general obligation bonds of the State of Texas to finance educational loans to students.”
LWV Overview: “The Hinson-Hazlewood College Student Loan Program provides low-interest loans to Texas residents who attend public or private higher education institutions in Texas and who have insufficient resources to finance a college education. The loan program uses general obligation bonds to finance the loans, which generally must be authorized by constitutional amendment. Since 1965, Texas voters have approved seven constitutional amendments authorizing $1.86 billion in bonds for the HH loan program. It is projected that the remaining bonds will be exhausted by 2013.

Proposition 3 would authorize additional bonds to be issued to support the HH loan program, but unlike the previous bond authorizations, the proposed amendment would not limit the total amount of bonds issued, as long as the aggregate amount did not exceed the total amount previously authorized by voters. This ongoing authority is known as “evergreen” authority.”

Source: Endorsement:
Austin Chronicle: YES. “This program would effectively continue an existing low-interest, fixed-rate student loan program (Hinson-Hazlewood, created in 1965 and managed by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board), which had a dollar limit periodically renewed and raised. This raises the current limit of $125 million to $350 million; the program has a long record of success and a good repayment record. Free public higher education would be the best alternative, but that's not currently in the cards. The market might one day blanch at these bonds, but they've been working well for nearly 60 years.”
Burka Blog: NO. “I strongly support the state's student loan program. However, it makes no sense to fund the program with general obligation bonds. It is just a way of hiding a tax increase from the public. If we want to fund student loans, and I hope we do, we should raise taxes to fund the loans.”
El Paso Times: YES. “Quite simply, the future of Texas depends on the education of its young people. Low-interest loans are critical for many people seeking that education. The program is self-supporting and doesn't use tax dollars, which should be a relief. The loan program will help insure the future of the state and its students seeking higher education.”
Empower Texans: NO. “Like Proposition 2, this amendment authorizes permanent bonding authority to the Higher Education Coordinating Board, thus eliminating the ability of voters to re-check the need for such bonds. Tuition costs are too high as it is, and more availability of taxpayer-subsidized student loans only incentivizes universities to further raise rates without addressing costs.”


Proposition 4: Tax-Increment Financing
Ballot Language: “The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to permit a county to issue bonds or notes to finance the development or redevelopment of an unproductive, underdeveloped, or blighted area and to pledge for repayment of the bonds or notes increases in ad valorem taxes imposed by the county on property in the area.  The amendment does not provide authority for increasing ad valorem tax rates.”
LWV Overview: “Currently the Texas Constitution allows the legislature to authorize incorporated cities and towns to use a mechanism called “tax increment financing” to finance the development or redevelopment of an unproductive, underdeveloped, or blighted area. Under this mechanism the bonds or notes to finance the development are repaid using increases in tax revenues on the property in the area. The revenue increases come from increases in property values in the development area, not from an increased tax rate, which is not authorized.”
Source: Endorsement:
Austin Chronicle: YES. “TIFs are already a municipal tool; this would extend bonding authority to counties. There is some opposition from anti-tax absolutists, although the program seems largely self-limiting. In Travis, it would likely enable better city-county collaboration on specific projects.”
Burka Blog: NO. “The only thing worse than bonds is speculative bonds. As I read the amendment, the county will only be able to repay what it borrows if the redevelopment increases the value of the property. If that doesn't happen, how are the bonds going to be paid off? My only quarrel with the advocate is that I am not as confident as she is that property values always go up.”
El Paso Times: YES. “This is similar to the Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones already being used in El Paso, except that it allows counties the same type of authority. The money would be raised by taxes generated from increases in property valuations, NOT through increased tax rates.
Empower Texans: NO. “This gives counties new authority for “Kelo”-style redevelopment takings. Such power should be restricted, not expanded.”


Proposition 5: Interlocal Contracts
Ballot Language: “The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to allow cities or counties to enter into interlocal contracts with other cities or counties without the imposition of a tax or the provision of a sinking fund.”
LWV Overview: “Currently under the Texas Constitution, cities with a population greater than 5,000 and all counties and cities bordering on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico may not create any debt without levying a tax sufficient to pay the interest and provide a sinking fund of at least two percent. A contract longer than one year between local governments has been interpreted as a debt under certain circumstances, requiring the tax assessment and the creation of a sinking fund.

Proposition 5, along with its enabling legislation, would authorize those cities and counties to enter into interlocal contracts longer than one year with other cities or counties without meeting the tax and sinking fund requirements.”

Source: Endorsement:
Austin Chronicle: YES. “Under existing law, interlocal contracts longer than one year have been treated as incurring a debt obligation and therefore require a tax provision and sinking fund for the projected “debt.” This provision would make it easier and more efficient to enter into interlocal agreements; it might even help with Austin-Travis County collaborations.”
Burka Blog: NO. “This just looks like another way of allowing cities and counties to get around raising taxes. If they don't have the money to cover the payment of costs, they shouldn't be entering into the contracts.”
El Paso Times: YES. “Interlocal agreements can be important tools of progress and cooperation between local government entities. This proposition would allow certain cities and counties — including El Paso — to enter into interlocal agreements for longer than one year without meeting certain taxing and sinking fund requirements currently mandated by the Constitution.”
Empower Texans: YES. “This amendment gives more flexibility for cities and counties to consolidate projects and services, therefore reducing the duplication of efforts and costs to taxpayers.”




About Author

Katherine Haenschen

Katherine Haenschen is a PhD candidate at the University of Texas, where she studies political participation on digital media. She previously managed successful candidate, issue, voter registration, and GOTV campaigns in Central Texas. She is also a fan of UCONN women's basketball and breakfast tacos.


  1. DMN and SAEN
    The Dallas Morning News and San Antonio Express-News are also making endorsements in all of these amendments.

  2. West Austin Democrats recommends:
    A “yes” vote on the two local bond packages, and a “yes” vote on all the constitutional amendments except #6, which raids the permanent school fund to make up some of the education funding shortfall.

    Personally, I'm opposed to Prop 1. It makes sense to give a totally disabled vet, who can't support himself (or herself), a tax break so (s)he can live in dignity.  But after (s)he is gone, the fact that (s)he was disabled and can't work becomes irrelevant. The surviving spouse is no different from the widow(er) of any other veteran. This amendment would allow a tax break for life, even if the spouse later remarried and moved elsewhere. (The tax break doesn't apply to spouses who have already remarried at the time of passage, but does apply to spouses who remarry later. Go figure.) At a time when our state government is badly underfunded, we can't afford to keep giving out these kinds of tax breaks.

    Of course, despite these arguments made by yours truly, WAD voted overwhelmingly to support Prop 1. In fact, each proposition was either endorsed (1-5 and 7-10) or rejected (#6) by a huge margin.

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