There's An Election In Texas Coming Up. Here Are The Constitutional Propositions You'll Vote On.

Sep 27, 2019

Voters in Texas will decide on 10 constitutional amendments this Election Day, Nov. 5. The propositions range from prohibiting an income tax from ever being collected in the state to allowing law enforcement animals to stay with their handlers when they retire.

Sometimes the language on a ballot can be confusing. Here's an explanation of what voters are being asked to decide, with an assist from the League of Women Voters.

Proposition 1: Municipal Judges

What you'll see on the ballot: “The constitutional amendment permitting a person to hold more than one office as a municipal judge at the same time.”

What it means: It’s pretty straightforward, but, if passed, the amendment would close a gap in the Texas Constitution. Under state law, elected municipal judges aren’t allowed to hold a judgeship in another city at the same time – while appointed judges can. As the Texas House Research Organization points out, the idea is to make it easier for rural communities with few qualified judges to recruit them from elsewhere.

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The passage could lead to an erosion of the one-person, one-office rule, however, and, if judges are spread too thin across too many courts, it could jeopardize their ability to preside over a court. 

Proposition 2: Water Projects In Distressed Areas

What you'll see on the ballot: "The constitutional amendment providing for the issuance of additional general obligation bonds by the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) in an amount not to exceed $200 million to provide financial assistance for the development of certain projects in economically distressed areas."

What it means: The board issues these bonds to help local governments develop sewer and water supply services in economically distressed areas. Voters green-lit $250 million for funding in 1989, with an additional $250 million approved in 2007. If the amendment passes, bonds issued by the board would not be able to exceed $200 million.

Proposition 3: Tax Exemptions For Disaster Areas

What you'll see on the ballot: “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.”

What it means: The law would allow homeowners to receive a temporary exemption from some property taxes if their homes or businesses are in a disaster area, as declared by the governor. The amount of the exemption would be based on damage assessments from FEMA or other sources, according to the Texas House Research Organization. Supporters of the amendment say it would provide a less expensive and easier to understand method of property appraisals following disasters.

Critics contend it would deprive cities and counties of revenue at a time when they have to provide much-needed services after a disaster. Still other critics believe the legislation does not go far enough to help taxpayers after a disaster.

Proposition 4: Personal Income Taxes

What you'll see on the ballot: "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." 

What it means: Proposition 4 would forbid future legislatures from imposing an income tax on residents. The Texas Constitution already requires an income tax be approved by voters, but this proposition would remove even that possibility. 

Critics point out that this is unnecessary because of the existing law. Eliminating an income tax could make it more difficult for the state government to fund schools, roads and other services in unknown future economic conditions. 

Supporters say it would confirm the state’s reputation as being a low-tax, pro-growth place to do business. They say the lack of income tax has been a factor in the state’s economic expansion.

Proposition 5: Parks And Historical Agencies

On the ballot: “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.”

What it means: Under state law, tax revenue from the sale of sporting goods in Texas is supposed to help fund Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Texas Historical Commission. But that hasn't been happening. Between 1993 and 2017, only 40 percent of that revenue has gone to the parks department, with much of the rest allocated elsewhere by state lawmakers. That's one reason the agency has an estimated $800 million backlog of deferred maintenance.

If approved, Proposition 5 would come close to ensuring the money goes to the parks department and historical commission. Lawmakers are still given a little wiggle room; the amendment says they can temporarily re-allocate funds during a legislative session with a two-thirds majority vote.

Proposition 6: Cancer Prevention And Research

What you’ll see on the ballot: "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."

What it means: In short, this will allow the state to increase the bond that pays for the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, or CPRIT, from $3 billion to $6 billion.

Cancer is a leading cause of death in Texas and the country. CPRIT was created to fund research and prevention programs across the state aimed at reducing deaths. Some programs funded by CPRIT have even been cited in academic journals as effective ways of increasing cancer screening in remote areas of the state, where screening is always more difficult.

CPRIT has been embroiled in controversy over how it spends taxpayer money, however. In 2012, it was found to have doled out $11 million without review, leading to the indictment of a former executive. CPRIT also has been dogged by questions over whether all the money spent over the years has yielded enough results. 

Proposition 7: Money For Public Education

What you’ll see on the ballot: “The constitutional amendment allowing increased distributions to the available school fund.”

What it means: Current law says this fund can distribute $300 million a year to schools around the state; this amendment would increase that to $600 million a year. This amendment in in response to legislation passed in the 2019 session increasing funding for schools.

While proponents applaud more money going to schools, critics say there's no proof more money means better educational outcomes for students. 

Proposition 8: Flood Infrastructure Funds

What you’ll see on the ballot: “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.”

What it means: Prop 8 would create the Flood Infrastructure Fund, a special bank account run by the state. It would provide grants or low-cost loans to local governments to help finance “drainage, flood mitigation, or flood control projects.” Voter approval of the amendment would also automatically move $793 million from the state’s rainy day fund" to the new fund to start paying for projects.

The proposition is in response to severe storms and flooding that have hit the state over the past several years. After Hurricane Harvey, Gov. Greg Abbott convened a special commission to look at how best to rebuild. While never mentioning climate change, the commission called for the state to “future proof” itself against increasing severe weather. 

Proposition 9: Precious Metals

What you'll see the ballot: "The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to exempt from ad valorem taxation precious metal held in a precious metal depository located in this state.”

What it means: If passed, gold or other income-producing precious metals held at depositories in the state would not be taxed. 

Supporters of the proposition say the law allows state depositories to compete on a level playing field with depositories in other states that do not tax deposits. For instance, the Texas Bullion Depository under construction in Leander would have similar tax laws for its depositors as Fort Knox or other depositories. The law would, in effect, make precious metals equivalent to storing cash, which is generally not subject to ad valorem taxes.

Critics say tax exemptions should not be used to incentivize economic behavior or to pick winners in the marketplace.

Proposition 10: Law Enforcement Animals

What you'll see the ballot: “The constitutional amendment to allow the transfer of a law enforcement animal to a qualified caretaker in certain circumstances.” 

What that means: State law classifies law enforcement animals – like dogs and horses – as property. The state constitution doesn’t allow the government to transfer property to private citizens for free, so currently the animals are auctioned off.

Proposition 10 would allow retired animals to be given to their handlers or other qualified caretakers, as long as it's in the animal’s best interest. Many of the animals have lived with their handlers during their years of service.

The bill passed with overwhelming support in both the House and Senate.