Endorsements: 2009 Texas Constitutional Amendment Elections

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This post is from Burnt Orange Report's coverage of the 2009 Constitutional Amendment election. For coverage of the 2011 Constitutional Amendment election, CLICK HERE.

In Texas, the month of November in odd-numbered years brings elections to ratify the latest batch of constitutional amendments put forth by the preceding legislative session. 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 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.

This year, several of these amendments are important enough to  merit advocacy on your part to make sure that folks turn out to vote. Specifically, we strongly encourage a “YES” vote on propositions 4, 8, and 9, and a “NO” vote on proposition 11, and suggest that you encourage others to do likewise. These are critical amendments for the future of Texas, and will do good work to make sure that our state lives up to our values.

Many of these amendments deal with appraisals and property tax issues. While we believe that all of them are well-intentioned by the legislature, several of them may have unintended negative consequences, or may need to be more clear and specific before becoming enshrined in the state constitution.

These endorsements conclude our look at the ongoing Constitutional Amendment Election. We hope you have enjoyed our efforts to explicate these amendments, and strongly encourage you to get out and vote. Finally, while this post is rather long, well, so is the Texas state constitution, thanks to endless amendment elections such as this. Early voting runs through Friday, October 30th, with Election Day on Tuesday, November 3rd.

The Burnt Orange Report issues the following endorsements in the November 3, 2009 Constitutional Amendment Election:

NO — Proposition 1: Open Space Military Buffer
Proposition 1 is largely a procedural question dealing with whether towns and counties have the constitutional authority to purchase open space near military bases. This amendment could result in cities and counties choosing to take on additional debt to pay for the land purchases. The amendment could also lower the amount taxable property in a given municipality, thus potentially necessitating an increase in property taxes. While military installations with extensive artillery or aeronautical exercises might be disruptive to folks in the area, an equally valid solution is to cease developing areas that encroach on military bases.

It is not the duty of every homeowner to subsidize the continual sprawl that has encroached upon our military installations and made this measure necessary, and at a potential cost to all, not just those who chose to live by the bases. The Burnt Orange Report recommends a NO vote on Proposition 1.

NO — Proposition 2: Homestead Appraisals
Proposition 2 allows for a residential property to be appraised for taxation solely on its value as a homestead, rather than as hypothetical commercial development that could be built in its place. Traditionally, properties are appraised on their “highest and best use,” regardless of what is actually built there.

There is already a cap on appraisal increases at 10% per year. Furthermore, this measure could well have the unintended effect of lowering the property tax base in school districts, thus hurting a significant source of their funding. There is also concern that it will not have the same effects in rural and urban areas. This amendment also does not address development of higher-cost residences in residential neighborhoods, which also can have a negative impact on homeowners. The Burnt Orange Report recommends a NO vote on Proposition 2.

NO — Proposition 3: Statewide Appraisal Process
Proposition 3 would remove the constitutional requirement that enforcement of appraisal standards originate in the county where the tax is imposed. It would also provide for meaningful state oversight of the appraisal process, and allow the state to address inequities and inconsistencies in the process. The proposition is intended to enable the Legislature to enact laws that would require properties in all Texas counties to be appraised in the same manner. However, the Legislature did not enact the laws that would determine the nature of statewide uniformity of local appraisal. This also raises questions of ever-changing statewide appraisal standards as the political winds shift. Furthermore, there are concerns that residents would need to travel extensive distances to protest appraisals. Thus, it seems problematic to allow the Legislature this authority without knowing exactly what kind of standardizations might be passed.

Clearly, there are problems with the appraisal process in Texas. This amendment could well be a good effort, but should be more specific and accompanied by a concrete program to enact this oversight and standardization before it's written into the state constitution. The Burnt Orange Report recommends a NO vote on Proposition 3.

YES — Proposition 4: National Research University Fund
Higher education in Texas is desperately in need of a serious infusion of funds. This proposition, which will direct money specifically towards institutions striving to become Tier 1 Universities-nationally respected institutions that conduct over $100 million in research per year-will be a huge boon to our state. These funds will attract top researchers and students to Texas, where they will conduct ground-breaking research that in turn can create the innovations and new industries of the future. Prop 4 will stimulate the economy through new innovations, and enable more Texas students to reach higher levels of educational achievement.

Opponents of the measure suggest that innovation should come from the private sector, rather than public funds. Unfortunately, our Governor has been particularly hostile to efforts to bring this innovation to Texas. What our state has lost in Perry's rejection of clean energy businesses and the battery consortium can be somewhat regained in cutting-edge research conducted by leading scholars who will be drawn to our new Tier 1 institutions. Furthermore, Proposition 4 will be funded by using money the state already has, and will not cost the taxpayers any additional money.

Furthermore, this presents an opportunity for greater geographic dispersion of Tier 1 institutions across Texas. UT Austin, Texas A&M, and Rice University are fairly close together. If UTEP or UT-Arlington are able to qualify, this will bring top research education opportunities physically closer to more Texans. For undergraduates and graduate students that need to study close to home, these funds can create the opportunity for a top-notch education they otherwise could not receive.

We must cast one note of caution: Texas doesn't currently fund UT and A&M at the level needed to maintain their competitiveness. Serious budget cuts are resulting in a loss of faculty and graduate students, which will hurt not only research output but also the quality of education received by undergraduates. Thus, while the effort to create new leading research institutions is important, we cannot overlook and underfund the existing economic and educational powerhouses we already have. And we cannot let these future Tier 1 institutions eventually fall victim to the same fate.  

This proposition, if used and maintained as intended, will have a transformative effect on Texas. The Burnt Orange Report strongly encourages a YES vote on Proposition 4.

YES — Proposition 5: Consolidated Boards of Equalization
Again, it is clear that there are problems with the appraisal process in Texas. This amendment will enable adjoining counties to form consolidated appraisal districts. In rural areas, this is a particularly necessary measure, as there is apparently a shortage of qualified people willing to serve on these boards. While this is likely not a trivial matter to folks in rural counties who are facing delays in their appraisal protests, this amendment raises the larger issue of the seeming need to amend the Constitution to make any and every procedural change to our government. Nevertheless, the Burnt Orange Report recommends a YES vote on Proposition 5.

YES — Proposition 6: Renewing Veterans' Land Bonds
Proposition 6 enables Texas to keep our promise to our veterans. The larger dollar amount of the loans would enable Texas to provide even more veterans buy a home. This amendment helps Texas keep our promise to those who serve our country. Furthermore, this amendment enables the Veterans' Land Bonds to roll over, rather than requiring a special authorization every time. In that sense, it might actually decrease the number of procedural amendments we vote on every two years: a double win. The Burnt Orange Report recommends a YES vote on Proposition 6.

YES — Proposition 7: Texas State Guards in Civil Office
Proposition 7 will allow members of the Texas State Guard to seek civil office. Currently, individuals are not allowed to hold more than one compensated position with the state. This is essentially correcting an oversight: when the original list of exemptions to the double-dipping law were created, the Texas State Guard was not particularly active. Now they are, and deserve to be on the list of exempted groups who can hold more than one compensated office. The Burnt Orange Report recommends a YES vote on Proposition 7.

YES — Proposition 8: State Funding for Veterans' Hospitals
Proposition 8 would help provide much-needed medical care to the 1.7 million veterans living in Texas, by enabling the state to contribute resources to veterans' hospitals. Given the size of our state, many of our veterans have difficulty reaching VA facilities for needed care. Some estimates suggest that up to one third of our Texas veterans are essentially without care due to lack of nearby facilities. This amendment will give Texas further abilities to remedy this situation, by creating a clear constitutional authority for the state to contribute to these facilities. The Burnt Orange Report strongly encourages a YES vote on Proposition 8.

YES — Proposition 9: Protecting Open Beaches
Proposition 9 will protect our public beaches-and our ability to access them-for the people of Texas in perpetuity. This amendment enshrines our Open Beaches Act in the constitution, and demonstrates the commitment of the people of Texas to keeping our beaches open to all. Rapid erosion and increasingly severe weather over the past few decades is literally transforming our coastline, and erosion is pushing the actual beach line back, under private property. We all benefit from the beaches, the ocean and the marine life in and around them. They are a public good, and deserve to remain public property and open to all. The Burnt Orange Report strongly encourages a YES vote on Proposition 9.

No Endorsement: Proposition 10: Emergency District Term Lengths
NO — Proposition 11: Eminent Domain Restrictions

On its face, Proposition 11 sounds as if Texans will once and for all receive some protection from seizure of private property through eminent domain. However, it is a convoluted amendment that Governor Perry and Senator Hutchison are running around the state touting as a real solution to eminent domain reform. It provides no such solutions.

The amendment fails to define economic development. Public use is also not clearly defined. Neither is “urban blight.” This amendment does nothing to prohibit the Legislature from using its powers to continue to let government bodies and quasi-governmental agencies from abusing eminent domain. It also does not prohibit the legislature from creating even more agencies, commissions, or bodies that can exercise the power of eminent domain.

A better amendment would have clearly defined public use and economic development. A better amendment would have mandated compensation for diminished access to a landowner's properties, and included the provisions from Rep. Yvonne Davis' bill to require relocation assistance for displaced landowners. A stronger amendment needs to limit the granting of eminent domain powers to new entities and mandate good-faith negotiations when governmental entities cannot avoid taking property by eminent domain, thus forcing governmental entities to offer fair prices for land they must take and hopefully avoiding protracted legal battles. A vote against this amendment will force the Legislature to pass meaningful eminent domain reform. The Burnt Orange Report strongly encourages a NO vote on Proposition 11.

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Burnt Orange Report

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

19 Comments

  1. Prop 11
    Interesting that you seem to be recommending a No vote on Prop 11 because it doesn't limit eminent domain enough, when I was thinking of voting No because I was worried it would open the state to lawsuits by “property rights” nuts for legitimate uses of eminent domain.  So now I'm thinking of voting Yes.  

    Because if the problem is that it doesn't limit eminent domain enough, it still limits eminent domain more than currently and protects low-income people more than currently.

    • There were conerns on that side with the “No” endorsement
      I'll just let you know that the staff of the Burnt Orange Report had some different reasons for suggesting the “No” endorsement, and your reason was actually in our discussion.  It's not emphasized much in the writeup, but we do say, “A better amendment would have clearly defined public use and economic development. ”

      The foggy definition is what could open lawsuits by those “property rights” nuts.  So yes, it might not be strong enough, but there is also that factor of lawsuits, too.  It goes both ways.

    • A valid comment.
      One facet of Prop 11 that didn't end up in the endorsement write-up is that it specifies that land can only be seized through eminent domain if it is for “ownership, use, and enjoyment” by the public. The “and” needs to be an “or,” otherwise we could see endless legal battles over whether a project is all three, all the time. (For instance, if land is desperately needed to expand a public utility, one might argue that it isn't being “enjoyed.”)

      Furthermore, while it greatly restricts who can use land seized through eminent domain, it seems to simultaneously allows the legislature to grant anyone the ability to seize land. Kind of a paradox.

      Personally, since transportation is a key issue for me, I look at this amendment as potentially running afoul for major transportation projects this state needs to consider in the future, particularly as rail (commuter, high-speed, and freight) projects are concerned.

    • on 11 Kirk Watson says you are wrong
      You say:

      This amendment does nothing to prohibit the Legislature from using its powers to continue to let government bodies and quasi-governmental agencies from abusing eminent domain. It also does not prohibit the legislature from creating even more agencies, commissions, or bodies that can exercise the power of eminent domain.

      But, recommending a “yes”, Kirk Watson says:



      Finally, Proposition 11 builds on a current law limiting the ability of the state, or any other jurisdiction, to condemn and acquire property for economic development purposes through the use of eminent domain.  It also would make clear that while some jurisdictions could still condemn land for “public use,” that term wouldn't apply to an economic development project. And it would require a two-thirds vote of the state House and Senate before the legislature could grant the power of eminent domain to a Texas entity.

      • Not mutually exclusive
        A two thirds vote is a hill to climb, but it doesn't 'prohibit' the lege from abusing eminent domain.

        • technically
          but this seems better than a simple prohibition.

          I think if your objection to the amendment is that it does nothing about the Leg creating new ED entities, a 2/3 requirement should address that objection. No?

  2. I gotta vote yes on all but 8
    Even if some of these are not as well written as they should be I figure something is better then nothing and when folks see that there are still problems then further adjustment will be made. I can't vote in favor of 8 because that's a federal problem and the state shouldn't be fixing it. Even more importantly if we had a single-payer health care system there wouldn't be a problem because vets could go to a local doctor or hospital instead of having to travel half way across the state.

    • No on One
      I'm voting No on Prop. 1.  If the military needs buffer zones, they can buy them with their own money.  They certainly have enough of it.  If cities need buffers around military bases, there is always eminent domain.  Why do they need constitutional authority?

      • Because…
        So Prop 1 is about giving the city or county the authority to seize the land to create the buffer, specifically for areas around military installations. It is unclear if that is currently in the constitution or not. Go back to the Overview of Prop 1 post and look at the House Research Organization write-up linked to there; goes into more detail.

        It's allowing the locality–not the military–to create their own buffer if they need to. But arguably they could just stop letting development run all the way up to it in the first place.

  3. Hop on prop
    I am voting against at least 4 propositions, including Prop 11. I believe since we already have sufficient legislation on eminent domain and it is unnecessary to include it in the state constitution.

    I know here in Texas we just love tacking on amendment after amendment, but when does it stop? Do we make every single law on the books an inflexible stationary rule as an amendment to our constitution? We need to be less rigid. Laws change over time as a society changes. That is what democracy is all about.

  4. Kedron Touvell on

    prop 1
    I'm a little late to the party here, but someone told me that the hidden agenda behind prop 1 was for San Antonio to acquire conservation land over the Edwards Aquifer that happened to be located next to a Military base.  The buffer zone language was used to get support from reflexive pro-military base voters.  Seems somewhat far-fetched and a tad dishonest, but since I otherwise could care less about the amendment I'll vote for it.

  5. Prop 2
    As someone who cares about affordable housing in East Austin, specifically keeping families in their homes, I am voting for Prop 2. Sen. Watson and Rep. Rodriguez both voted for it. Prop 2 keeps property taxes from skyrocketing by prohibiting the appraisal district from increasing property values because a condo would be a better use of the land.  

  6. Prop 11
    It seems like most people on here don't think the government should be able to take private property for economic development (i.e. toll roads, build a Wal-Mart, whatever 2/3's of the Lege decides.)  Prop 11 would put a protection against that into the Constitution. The Supreme Court ruled that the government can take the land right now.  If you oppose eminent domain in these cases, why not take the added protection?  I'm voting yes.

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