2011 Constitutional Amendments: Overview of Propositions 6, 7, 8, 9, & 10

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Early voting is underway for the Constitutional Amendments election, and runs through Friday, November 4. Election Day is Tuesday, November 8. Yesterday, Burnt Orange Report covered proposed amendments 1-5. Today, we are providing some information about propositions 6-10. 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 6-10 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.

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Missed it? Read BOR's overview of Constitutional Amendments 1-5: CLICK HERE.

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Proposition 6: Permanent School Fund
Ballot Language: “The constitutional amendment clarifying references to the permanent school fund, allowing the General Land Office to distribute revenue from permanent school fund land or other properties to the available school fund to provide additional funding for public education, and providing for an increase in the market value of the permanent school fund for the purpose of allowing increased distributions from the available school fund.”
LWV Overview:  “The Permanent School Fund (PSF) was established in the Texas Constitution of 1876, which set aside half of Texas' remaining public lands to help finance public schools. Several different terms are used in the Constitution to refer to this fund, and Proposition 6 would replace other terms with the single term, “Permanent School Fund” in all references.

The proposed amendment also provides for potential increases in distributions from the PSF to the Available School Fund (ASF), which provides funding to school districts on a per-student basis and supports classroom instructional materials and technology.

Currently, the General Land Office (GLO) is responsible for managing the public school lands; proceeds from the land and mineral rights are held in the PSF. The State Board of Education (SBOE) manages the investment of the PSF and, if the fund's investment performance per- mits, makes distributions from the PSF to the ASF. Only interest or revenue income from the PSF can be spent; the principal amount remains intact and will continue to benefit the public schools of Texas.

The proposed amendment would permit the distribution of some revenue derived from the public school lands directly to the ASF. The GLO, or an entity other than the SBOE with the responsibility for the management of permanent school fund land or other properties, would be permitted to transfer up to $300 million per year of revenues derived from the public lands that year. This provision addresses problems found by the Attorney General in a previous statute allowing such distributions.

The proposed amendment would also change the way the market value of the PSF is calculated by including additional assets that are currently not included (i.e., dis- cretionary real estate investments and cash in the state treasury derived from PSF property). At the beginning of each legislative session, the SBOE determines the rate (up to a maximum rate specified in the Constitution) of the market value of the PSF that will go to the ASF. Given the current value of the PSF and the rate determined by the SBOE at the beginning of the last legislative session, this proposed amendment might provide approximately $75 million more to the ASF in both FY 2011-2012 and 2012-13.”

Source: Endorsement:
Austin Chronicle: YES. “The income from sales and leases of property and royalties that must currently be returned to the corpus of the fund (where they can generate interest revenue for subsequent distribution) would under this amendment be available for direct distribution to the permanent school fund, which lends greater flexibility to the fund.”
Burka Blog: NO. “The idea of letting the Legislature take money out of the endowment for public education gives me heartburn. Who knows how the Lege might spend the money? Remember when Craddick, Dewhurst, and Perry were talking about an infrastructure bank for toll roads?”
El Paso Times: YES. “The proposition would clear up constitutional language concerning the Permanent School Fund and would help provide support for public schools. After the recent Legislature debacle concerning school funding, this is a good idea.”
Empower Texans: NO. “By allowing state government to take more money from the PSF in the short term, this amendment would endanger the principal of the fund thereby compromising future school funding.”

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Proposition 7: El Paso County Bond Authority
Ballot Language: “The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to permit conservation and reclamation districts in El Paso County to issue bonds supported by ad valorem taxes to fund the development and maintenance of parks and recreational facilities.”
LWV Overview: “Under the Texas Constitution, the legislature can authorize specified counties or water districts to create conservation and reclamation districts that would issue bonds and levy taxes to develop parks and recreational facilities that were not so authorized before September 13, 2003. Currently 10 counties are specified; Proposition 7 would add El Paso County to that list.

If the proposed amendment passes, voters in the district would have to approve or deny creation of a combined city/county tax district in El Paso County in order for the legislature to authorize a district to issue bonds or incur indebtedness.”

Source: Endorsement:
Austin Chronicle: YES. “Why are we voting on this? This practice is already allowed in numerous (though not all) counties, and the specific enabling legislation hasn't been passed yet in this case – El Paso County will still have to work on that. One of the sillier aspects of the state constitution, but we shouldn't block for El Paso what it can determine for itself.”
Burka Blog: YES. “If local voters are willing to tax themselves, that's their business.”
El Paso Times: YES. “It's important to note that passage of this proposition would not in itself raise taxes. It would merely give El Paso voters the chance to vote on a city-county taxing district, which in turn would allow the Legislature to authorize this district to issue bonds. That's where the taxation would come in, so it's a long way off.

Does El Paso need a dedicated parks district? The early answer seems to be yes, and should be the subject of serious discussion, particularly because it would include the creation of yet another taxing entity.”

Empower Texans: NO. “State and local governments should be moving away from the property tax system, not looking to expand dependence on it.”

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Proposition 8: Water Stewardship
Ballot Language: “The constitutional amendment providing for the appraisal for ad valorem tax purposes of open-space land devoted to water-stewardship purposes on the basis of its productive capacity.”
LWV Overview: “Property that is appraised for open land use (currently for agriculture, ranching and/or wildlife preservation) is taxed on the basis of its productive capacity, rather than at full market value. This proposed amendment would add a new water conservation option, called a “water stewardship valuation,” to land already appraised for open land use. This would not decrease property taxes on the land, but would give open-space landowners an- other option to engage in activities on their property that benefit both water quality and quantity.

Management plans for individual water stewardship would be created in association with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and could include brush control to increase stream flow and groundwater storage, land management that would enhance infiltration into soil around playas, water reuse projects in wetlands to clean water naturally, and erosion control to impede silting of reservoirs.”

Source: Endorsement:
Austin Chronicle: YES. “Author Sen. Kirk Watson describes this amendment as the “first statewide water conservation tool.” It doesn't do as much as it should – it's restricted to landowners who already qualify for an agricultural exemption, so “it wouldn't cost the state money” – but it's a step toward greater attention to common water resources and stewardship thereof. It's endorsed by major environmental orgs.”
Burka Blog: NO. “Another tax break. I guess this means that if a landowner builds a stock tank or a fishing lake, he gets a tax break. NO MORE TAX BREAKS!”
El Paso Times: YES. “As explained by the Texas League of Women Voters, “This would not decrease property taxes on the land, but would give open-space landowners another option to engage in activities on their property that benefit both water quality and quantity.”

As any Texan knows, water and water conservation are vital to the state's success and survival. And this wouldn't involve any tax increases.”

Empower Texans: Neutral. “Supporters of the amendment say that it promotes water conservation and would not reduce tax revenue, since only property that already qualifies for this exemption would be eligible.

Those against the amendment say it is unnecessary and that would allow for the transfer of wealth from one set of property owners to another.”

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Proposition 9: Pardons for Deferred Adjudication
Ballot Language: “The constitutional amendment authorizing the governor to grant a pardon to a person who successfully completes a term of deferred adjudication community supervision.”
LWV Overview: “In some criminal cases, if a defendant pleads guilty or no contest, a judge may defer adjudication of guilt and place the defendant on probation with community supervision. If the defendant successfully completes probation, the judge must dismiss the charges.

Under current law, the governor can grant pardons after conviction, but not after deferred adjudication. The proposed amendment would add the authority to grant pardons after deferred adjudication as well. All other requirements for pardons would remain the same.

When a pardon is granted, the criminal record may be expunged. A person who has completed deferred adjudication still has a criminal history record in the public domain.”

Source: Endorsement:
Austin Chronicle: YES. “This is unlikely to affect many people, but it resolves an inconsistency in the law.”
Burka Blog: YES. “At last, an amendment that doesn't offer a tax break or try to avoid our pay-as-you-go system. I'm for it.”
El Paso Times: YES. “This would level the playing field for people successfully finishing deferred adjudication with those actually convicted of any crime and who can receive pardons from the governor.”
Empower Texans: Neutral. “Supporters of the amendment believe it is unfair that someone found guilty of a crime can be pardoned and their record cleared, but state law does not afford those given deferred adjudication the same opportunity.

Those opposing the amendment say that violations should not be so easily removed from one's criminal record.”

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Proposition 10: Adjusting Resign-to-Run Dates
Ballot Language: “The constitutional amendment to change the length of the unexpired term that causes the automatic resignation of certain elected county or district officeholders if they become candidates for another office.”
LWV Overview: “Under current law, if certain elected district or county office holders with more than one year left on their current terms announce for or become candidates for another office, they automatically resign from their current office. This “resign-to-run” provision was added to the Constitution in 1958 after the terms for certain officials were changed from two to four years. With a one-year unexpired term, it provided a window for elected officials to file for office by January 2 for an election within the same calendar year without resigning their offices.

Because Senate Bill 100 changed the filing deadline for offices from January 2 of the primary election year to the second Monday in December of the preceding year, the one-year unexpired term no longer allowed the same opportunity for office holders to continue in their current office while running for a new office. Proposition 10 would change the length of the unexpired term that causes the automatic resignation from one year to one year and 30 days, thus preserving the original intent of the provision.”

Source: Endorsement:
Austin Chronicle: YES. “This is a necessary change to comport with the new election calendar if current officeholders are to be allowed to maintain their positions (within limits) while running for another office.”
Burka Blog: YES. “At last, an amendment that doesn't offer a tax break or try to avoid our pay-as-you-go system. I'm for it.”
El Paso Times: YES. “Currently, certain officeholders running for a different position and with more than a year left on their current term have to resign their position.

However, a change in the filing deadline effectively changed that. This proposition would allow the current office to remain stable and allow the official who is running to maintain an income.”

Empower Texans: Neutral. “Supporters of the amendment say it does not change policy but rather adjusts for the new federal filing date enacted to allow more time for the delivery of ballots to the military and others overseas.

Those against the amendment feel as though it is unfair that county officials should have this special provision that city and state officials do not have.”

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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 Comment

  1. West Austin Dems recommends “no” on 6, “yes” on others
    Prop 6 is a result of the lege having drastically underfunded all aspects of government, and especially education. With all other sources of support for short-term public education cut off, the lege voted to raid the permanent school fund, changing the rules so that more money could be tapped. This was done with bipartisan agreement and hardly a “no” vote, with some very good people (like Scott Hochberg) working to get it passed. Dems were willing to do anything that got more money for next year's schools, and R's were willing to do anything to relieve the heat they were getting for underfunding schools, without violating their “no taxes, no rainy day fund” pledges.

    But it's still a bad idea. Lord knows that the schools desperately need more money, but taking it from the Permanent School Fund endowment isn't the right way to do it.  “Permanent” is supposed to mean permanent, not “until we get to the next time that R's refuse to pay for state government, at which time we'll use this to bail them out.”  

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