State Constitutional Amendment Election
Fri., Oct. 27, 1995
Early voting continues through November 3
There are 14 proposed state constitutional amendments up for public vote on November 7. Following is a list with the ballot language and the Chronicle's endorsements. By the way, have we mentioned since the last constitutional amendment election that it's tough to support any amendments to an already cluttered constitution? Did we continue that the current process of regularly amending an already bulky document with often idiotic provisions is the most inept way to govern and it is time to seriously revamp it and change the amendment process? Did we?
#1: Providing for the issuance of $300 million in general obligation bonds to finance educational loans to students. Yes.
College attendance contributes to the growth of the state's economy. Without the additional funds, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board will be unable to meet anticipated loan requests for the 1996-97 academic year and beyond. The loans have a low default rate (5%), are self-supporting, and are guaranteed by the federal government.
#2: Authorizing the legislature to exempt from ad valorem taxation the property of an organization that was chartered by the Republic of Texas and that is used primarily for charitable or public service activities. No.
Current laws provide sufficient exemptions for groups that perform worthwhile public services. And consider that, although is not in the ballot language, the amendment was written for Texas' Masonic Lodges, and will largely apply to them. The Masonic groups restrict membership, whereas an amendment of this kind ought to apply to groups with open membership policies regardless of race, religion, gender, or income.
#3: Authorizing the farm and ranch finance program to use its bond authority to provide financial assistance to aid the production, marketing, and export of Texas agricultural products. No endorsement.
The amendment would transfer $200 million from the state's land and ranch finance program fund administered by the Veterans Land Board to the Texas Agricultural Finance Authority (TAFA), and combine the two entities for more efficiency in loan issuance and agribusiness development. Rick Perry's Agriculture department is pushing this heavily, saying that while the land and ranch program administers $500 million for land purchase loans, the TAFA is restricted to $25 million for marketing and development loans, when they really need about $300 million. Opponents say the transfered funds will not go to needy farmers, but to "agribusiness," or more corporate ventures, and that the Veterans Land Board ought to remain separate from the TAFA.
#4: Permitting an encumbrance to be fixed on homestead property for an owelty of partition and for the refinance of a lien against a homestead. No.
There are very few instances under which a debtor can be forced to sell their homestead, and this amendment would just provide two more.
#5: Increasing by $500 million the amount of general obligation bonds that may be issued to augment the veterans' housing assistance fund II. No endorsement.
Supporters say the demand for veterans' housing loans is rising fast; without the additional funds, the Veterans' Land Board will run out of money to lend before the next legislative session in 1997. The proposed amendment, however, would authorize a large increase in debt, for a group which already enjoys numerous federal and state benefits, including government-subsidized mortgage rates lower than those available to other home buyers.
#6: Exempting from ad valorem taxation the residence homestead of the surviving spouse of an elderly person. Yes.
The loss of income or benefits to an older person following the death of a spouse makes it difficult to make up the difference and pay increased taxes. There would be negligible tax revenue loss because of the narrow class of eligible property owners, and since the homestead has already been exempted.
#7: Reducing from $500 million to $250 million the amount of general obligation bonds authorized for undertakings related to the superconducting super collider research facility. Yes.
Since the federal government cut off funding for the super collider in 1993 and the project died, there is no reason to issue the remaining bonds. The state may enjoy an improved bond rating with the decreased debt authorization.
#8: Providing for the abolition of the office of constable in Mills, Reagan, and Roberts counties. Yes.
Can't think of a single reason not to support this one, though a more reasonable approach might be an amendment to allow counties to decide these things on their own.
#9: Allowing investment of money from the Texas growth fund in a business without the business's disclosure of investments in or with South Africa or Namibia. Yes.
The disclosure requirement is no longer necessary; since the fall of South Africa's system of apartheid, the embargo is off, and this collected information isn't used.
#10: Abolishing the office of state treasurer. Yes.
The duties are already handled by the Comptroller's office. Current Treasurer Martha Whitehead ran on a platform of abolishing her office. Let her do it.
#11: Allowing open-space land used for wildlife management to qualify for tax appraisal in the same manner as open-space agricultural land. Yes.
Texas' land is 97% privately owned; this amendment provides an incentive for farmers and ranchers to preserve open space for wildlife. This is one way the state can help support private preservation efforts. True, it would be nice if the state or the federal government saw fit to help preserve Texas' natural heritage by purchasing large tracts of land for open space and wildlife preservation, as other states have, but there's no chance in heck that's going to happen.
#12: Authorizing the legislature to exempt from ad valorem taxation personal property and mineral interests that have a value insufficient to recover the administrative costs of collecting the taxes. Yes.
While it may initially create more paperwork to determine the standards of eligibility, overall it seems like a sound business practice.
#13: Authorizing governing bodies to exempt from ad valorem taxation boats and equipment used primarily in the commercial taking or production of fish, shrimp, shellfish, and other marine life. No.
Supporters say commercial fishing is as risky and uncertain as farming and ranching, which enjoy certain tax exemptions. There are good points about this amendment, including the fact that it leaves the ultimate decision of whether to exempt up to the local taxing authorities. But this is a slippery slope, and the constitution is already rife with tax exemptions for special interests. What's to keep other business groups from seeking exemptions next session because of hardship or risk? We have to draw the line here.
#14: Raising the limits of the exemption from ad valorem taxation of property owned by disabled veterans or their survivors. No.
Okay, we're not trying to be mean here. First, this should not be a constitutional amendment at all, but a statute, due to its very specific provisions. Those provisions attempt to address, in dollar amounts, the fact that the exemptions have not been increased since 1972. But it's a stop-gap measure; the increases should be calculated with a cost-of-living formula, to avoid another constitutional amendment in 10 to 20 years. Yes, we would like to increase benefits for this group in need, but the proposed method is faulty and needs to be revisited. n