Burnt Orange Report Endorsements for 2011 Constitutional Amendment Election

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This November, Texans have the opportunity to vote on 10 statewide constitutional amendments. Ranging from minor statutorial changes to large bonding initiatives, these amendments are the result of the most recent session, which demonstrated how feeble and ineffective the Legislature is, especially with a Republican super-majority.

While several of us at Burnt Orange Report disagree on principal with the need to vote on minor procedural changes (such as the El Paso amendment, #7, or past years' votes on term limits for Emergency Services Districts) this year we take bigger issue with the fact that major policy initiatives can only gain traction through a series of uninspiring Constitutional amendments. On education funding, land use authority, and water conservation, is this really the best the Legislature can come up with? Sadly, for the time being, the answer appears to be yes.

So while we encourage you to get out and vote FOR every amendment but Proposition 6, we want to see more leadership on crucial issues facing Texas from our supposed leaders in the capitol.

Below are our endorsements on the 10 statewide propositions. These are the weighted consensus of our staff. Staff members with material or professional interest in any of these amendments (or the Travis County bonds, below) recused themselves from voting on that item.

Texas Constitutional Amendments

Proposition 1: Homestead Exemptions for Veterans' Spouses — FOR. This amendment fixes a major problem for the families of disabled veterans, at minimal cost to the state. We do hope that a future amendment adjusts this exemption such that if the surviving spouse remarries, they lose the exemption. But for now, this is an important measure to help those who serve our country. Burnt Orange Report endorses a vote FOR Prop 1.

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Proposition 2: Water Bonds — FOR. It is frustrating that this amendment is the best our legislature can come up with to support water infrastructure, and that this is the sole mechanism to fund such projects. However, it's a start, so we encourage voters to support this amendment and we encourage the Legislature to get real about water stewardship and conservation. Burnt Orange Report endorses a vote FOR Prop 2.

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Proposition 3: Low-Interest Student Loans — FOR. If this proposition is not approved, a very important source of financial aid for Texas students will run dry. College costs are escalating, and Texas families can't keep up. Burnt Orange Report endorses a vote FOR Prop 3.

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Proposition 4: Tax Increment Financing — FOR. Counties only have the land-use authority expressly granted them by the state constitution and/or Legislature. This amendment will allow counties and unincorporated areas to use TIFs to rebuild or redevelop unused or blighted areas. This is procedural, but important. Burnt Orange Report unanimously endorses a vote FOR Prop 4.

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Proposition 5: Interlocal Contracts — FOR. This will allow cities and counties to enter into inter-local agreements longer than one year, which is important for long-term planning. This will provide a tool for cities and counties to work better together. Burnt Orange Report unanimously endorses a vote FOR Prop 5.

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Proposition 6: Permanent School Fund — AGAINST. If there is one issue that defined the 2011 legislative session it was cuts to education funding. However, Proposition 6 does nothing to solve the serious structural instabilities facing public education in our rapidly growing state. A majority of our staff feels that it is necessary to point out that that while passing Prop 6 will probably help some students in the short run, it is akin to putting a band-aid over a gushing artery. We want to see a real, sustainable plan to fund education long-term in Texas, and we want our leaders to show us the plan and engage us, the people of Texas, in supporting it. In the meantime we can't get excited about this quick fix. Burnt Orange Report narrowly endorses a vote AGAINST Prop 6.

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Proposition 7: El Paso Bond Authority — FOR. Residents of El Paso County should have the right to decide if they want to tax themselves to fund conservation and reclamation districts. Burnt Orange Report unanimously endorses a vote FOR Prop 7.

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Proposition 8: Water Stewardship — FOR. The vast majority of land in Texas is privately owned, so if our state is to engage in real conservation and stewardship efforts, we need tools with which to do so. Prop 8 provides a mechanism to encourage private land-owners to engage in activities that benefit water quality and water conservation. More and better water conservation tools, please. Burnt Orange Report endorses a vote FOR Prop 8.

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Proposition 9: Pardons for Deferred Adjudication — FOR. This resolves an inconsistency in the law. Burnt Orange Report unanimously endorses a vote FOR Prop 9.

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Proposition 10: Resign-to-Run Dates — FOR. On a procedural level, this adjusts our election code to comply with SB 100's changes to our election calendar, enabling current officeholders to announce they're seeking a different position without forcing an early resignation. Here in Travis County, we've seen this play out as potential candidates for offices other than that which they hold are forced to dance around whether or not they're running, delay launching a campaign or raising funds, or reaching out to voters. It's silly. If folks want to run, let's make it easier for them to make their intentions known. Burnt Orange Report unanimously endorses a vote FOR Prop 10.

For more information, you can read our overview of Amendments 1-5 here and our overview of Amendments 6-10 here.

This year, Burnt Orange Report also chose to weigh in on the Travis County bonds on the ballot. All Travis County voters can vote on these propositions. Early Voting locations are here and more information from the campaign to pass them was posted on BOR here.

Travis County Propositions 1 & 2

Proposition 1: FOR. While the proportion of spending in Prop 1 is still heavy on road upgrades, this mobility oriented package contains new monies for needed improvements to county sidewalks, bike lanes, roadways, and transportation infrastructure. Travis County is taking a step in the right direction by diversifying its transportation spending and working directly with communities of interest to prioritize project spending. Burnt Orange Report unanimously endorses a vote FOR Travis County Prop 1.

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Proposition 2: FOR. New parklands, land conservation projects, and the preservation of even more open space makes Prop 2 an easy sell to Austin voters. More please! Burnt Orange Report unanimously endorses a vote FOR Travis County Prop 2.

Early Voting runs through this Friday. Election Day is next Tuesday, November 8. Now go VOTE!

About Author

Burnt Orange Report

Burnt Orange Report, or BOR for short, is Texas' largest political blog, written from a progressive/liberal/Democratic standpoint.

24 Comments

  1. More subsidizing sprawl
    Prop 1 is nicer roads to subsidize sprawl than we've done in the past, but they're still sprawl-subsidizing roads. Why is the entire county taxed (meaning mostly Austin), but the roads built are only outside city limits?

      • Not often enough
        Why should the people in unincorporated Travis County get all their infrastructure paid for by the entire county, while the people inside city limits don't?

    • The county is doing its job
      They're not building roads to nowhere so that developers can move in and make a bundle on sprawl. They're building (or expanding, or fixing) roads where people currently live, and where the transportation network is woefully inadequate.

      That's what the county is supposed to do — see to its citizens' needs. That's why I enthusiastically voted “yes” on Prop 1.  

      • Taylor Lane
        This is factually incorrect. Most of the money is being spent in NE Travis County, around Talyor Lane, Blake Manor, etc., where there is currently very little residential development. It is all being prepared for sprawl.

    • City vs. County
      Your question, Mike, gets at a common issue folks don't seem to be too familiar with — questions over the difference between City and County government, and who is responsible for what.

      Here in Texas, there are almost no large urban counties in Texas in which the County does road / transportation projects within the City limits. This is a County bond, which is designed to address projects over which only the County has jurisdiction. (Not the City, not TXDOT. Just the County.)

      On this bond, I would like to note, are several projects that involve constructing the County side of projects approved in the 2010 transportation bond — i.e. literally the other side / sidewalks / bike lanes of the street that was approved in the 2010 City bond. The 2010 City transportation bond provided the In-The-City portion, now the 2011 County bond will provide In-The-County portion.

      Generally though, the County does not complete entire roadway projects within the city and vice versa. However, it is not uncommon for cities to wait until we complete a new roadway project and then annex it. A recent example is Anderson Mill Road between US 183 and RR 620. So in that sense, the entire County will be funding complete streets with roads, bike lanes, and sidewalks, which will eventually be annexed by Austin.

      One other note: many of these projects will relieve bad traffic congestion points that create other slow-downs across the County and City. By alleviating some of these choke points that have arisen in the past 6 years, everyone will have a faster trip. It's also great to see the County investing in sidewalks and bike lanes so that folks across the region have more choices as to how they get around their neighborhoods, get to schools, go to the park, make a trip to the store, etc.

      This bond is the County government doing its job to meet the infrastructure needs of the County. Projects are designed to work with our existing regional plans for growth. Props 1 & 2 together offer a balance of transportation and environmental benefits for Travis County residents. Projects reduce traffic and improve mobility and safety while protecting our drinking water, preserving water quality, and protecting working farms, ranches and locally grown food sources. It's a good package that is the result of hundreds of hours of citizen input, and it will provide benefits for everyone in Travis County.

      Disclaimer! I am managing the citizen-driven campaign to pass the County Bonds! Vote FOR the bonds! Vote FOR them!

      • Argument
        I get all of that. The part I don't get is why you think residents of the city should pay for infrastructure that benefits almost exclusively people living outside the city.

        And please don't try to sell me on the “benefits everyone” hand-wave. Otherwise, we can never argue against ANY harmful subsidization, because that argument can be (badly) made almost anywhere. In this case, these (albeit much better than in the past) road projects will benefit 99% people outside city limits while being paid for by (estimate/guess) 90% people inside city limits; and the people outside the city limits will be moving into subdivisions that we have no regulatory power over – i.e. ultrasprawl.

        You're asking the city to subsidize sprawl. Even if it's a higher quality (slightly) sprawl because the roads to it have bike lanes, I'm still against it.

        The annexation argument is (somewhat) applicable in certain cases, but does not explain many others as we're obviously limited to certain areas of TC due to other areas being in other cities' ETJ or just too far away.

        On equitability grounds, it would make sense to tax the whole county and build projects through the whole county. This does, in fact, happen in other states (although in some instances they are just as inequitable as we are, to be fair). Or, alternatively, to only tax those outside city limits.

        • Austin has endorsed sprawl for decades
          I get the argument against sprawl. I actually agree with it.

          But to say that we'd be endorsing sprawl by voting for Prop 1 is ridiculous. We endorse sprawl by electing anti-growth city council members almost every chance we get.

          And with that being said, I feel like we need policies like this one otherwise the sprawl will get even worse.

          • Not making sense
            These roads are going to be used 99% by those outside city limits, and are being funded by the 90% of Travis County that lives within various cities. That's the very definition of subsidizing sprawl, AND making it worse, not better.

      • Sub-optimal way to resolve congestion
        I'm voting for Prop 1 b/c it's got some good components and the alternative is no infrastructure at a time that unemployment even in Central Texas is still relatively high and undertaking capital projects is still cheap. Prop 2 is pretty solid.

        But as a progressive and an environmentalist, I feel there's a lot of big talk in Austin about staying unique and sustainable, but our policy choices keep undermining said goals in favor of sprawl.

        Road investment to relieve congestion risks continued subsidizing of sprawl and car-centered transit. It feels status quo; and I feel status quo Austin is creating cheap housing supply for average folks through subsidize suburban communities that will not be good investments and introduce a lot of fuel price risk into those households.

        We should subsidize development that will make the region more resilient. Some of the road investments in Prop 1 don't seem like that. We need local advocacy orgs that will stay focused on truly green, dense transit, housing, and local tax agenda.

        • Roads not Sustainable
          Which part of Prop 1 looks sustainable to you? 95% is going to build roads, mainly 4 lane sprawl collectors. It is the exact opposite of green and dense.

          • No disagreement on sustainability
            I don't believe I couched my support of Prop 1 by designating the investments as attractive because they are promote my personal vision of what a 'sustainable' environmental policy for Austin looks like.

            I think if your review my first paragraph the bulk of my justification is valuing Prop 1's (hopefully) counter-cyclical effect.

            I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on how we build the local advocacy infrastructure to promote an enduring 'green growth' coalition that features building housing supply through density and complementary transit choices that stop subsidizing cars and passing fuel price shock risk to folks with stagnant wages.

          • 31% of Prop. 1 is for bike/ped
            Of the $133M in Prop. 1, $25M is for bike improvements (shoulders and bike lanes) and $16M is for sidewalks.  So the bike/ped component is 31% of the total.  (Don't let Ben Wear know.)

            Also, the road expansions are consistent with the CAMPO 2035 Plan.  And finally, most or all of these roads will be annexed by a municipality (incl. Austin) at some point, so the municipalities will be inheriting “complete streets” rather than the many sidewalk-free roads you still see within Austin.

            I think that we can do an even better job next time, but I still support Prop. 1.

          • Spin
            Not sure how so many people got co-opted here, but that's a load of spin.

            They're still roads to areas that will never be part of Austin – that only, effectively, Austin is paying for. It is absolutely not true that “Austin” is going to annex these areas at some point; many of these areas are unavailable to us (other side of Pflugerville, or too far to the southwest, or otherwise impossible or impractical to get to).

            If this is such a great idea, Austin should annex the areas first, then.

      • Question
        Do projects in the city have as much of a chance of being funded by county bonds as projects outside the city?

        I believe that is what m1ek is getting at.  If people in unincorporated areas aren't helping pay for projects that are in the city, because the city is covering those, but people in the city are helping pay for projects in unincorporated areas, because the county is covering those, that's a problem and unfair to those in the city.

        • Zero chance
          The county never funds any road projects or park projects within any city's city limits. The only spending the county does inside city limits are for things like the jail/courthouse.

          • OK
            I reread Katherine's post and she had answered my question, I hadn't read closely enough.

            You make a good point.  How much of prop 1 is of this nature?  Is there any way to get around it?

            There needs to be some incentive for people in unincorporated areas to not get what is almost a free ride of not having to help pay for city construction but having the city help pay for theirs.  Maybe someone who knows more about the issue can address this?  Is this a problem with state law?

          • 100%
            100% of Prop 1 money is being spent outside city limits. Get around it by voting against it. They could finance it with MUDs, TIFs, or the developers could pay for it, but why bother when you can get City of Austin taxpayers to foot the bill.

  2. A quick note on Prop 6
    I certainly agree that Prop 6 applies a band-aid to a gaping school finance wound, but I support the measure for a simple reason: GLO-managed revenues are meant to support public schools, and Prop 6 simply creates a clear mechanism to do so.

    In the recent past, whenever Commissioner Patterson sent GLO revenues to the Available School Fund (ASF), he made a big, political show of it. Prop 6 acknowledges this reality, strips some (but surely not all) of the politics from the process, and caps the amount that can be sent to the ASF so that GLO-managed properties continue to grow in value.

    Most of the opposition to this amendment stems from far-right groups like Empower Texans, from regional tea party groups, and from the tin-hat blogosphere. I'm somewhat surprised to see BOR join them on this issue.

    Michael Soto

    Member, State Board of Education (District 3)

    • It depends on what you mean by “revenue”
      Money obtained from mineral rights come at a cost of depleting the oil reserves. Like the sale of any other asset, it's only “income” in a technical sense.

      Prop 6 basically authorizes a reverse mortgage — the schools get income for a number of years, but the source of that wealth (oil reserves) gets used up.  Current law says that oil revenues should be invested and treated as principal, and only the income from those investments should be tapped. That's a sensible long-term policy.

      Don't get me wrong.  Sometimes reverse mortgages make sense, and Lord knows that our schools need lots of help now. But it's not a free lunch, as some proponents of Prop 6 claim. The long-term cost is very high. That's why many pro-education liberals (like me) are opposed to Prop 6.

      (And if the right-wing nutcases agree with us, well, they're allowed to be right once in a while, too.)

  3. Who is Burnt Orange Report?
    Who voted to support these endorsements?  Your “Who We Are” link only includes Karl-Thomas Musselman.

    • I believe
      it's KT, Katherine Haenschen, Ben Sherman, Ed Garris, Phillip Martin?  I can't remember if Phillip is still on staff.

  4. Not better
    In my opinion, we'd actually be better off if Williamson County attracted this development. Otherwise, we're adding yet more penalties on top of the huge ones that already exist to the residents of the MOST sustainable city in our region (Austin) to support unsustainable sprawl. If we make it slightly more expensive to live in Round Rock, on the other hand, who cares?

    Remember that the county has effectively zero control over land use – so there's no real way to know that a sprawl subdivision in unincorporated Travis would be more or less urban or sustainable than a sprawl subdivision in unincorporated Williamson.

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