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'Chronicle' Endorsements and Election Info

Our recommendations for the Nov. 8 election

Fri., Oct. 21, 2011

Here are the Chronicle editorial board's endorsements for the Nov. 8 state constitutional amendments and Travis County bond proposition elections, for which early voting runs Oct. 24-Nov. 4.

Constitutional Amendments

As is our custom, we note that rewriting the Texas Constitution by biennial referendum is poor legislative practice and regularly confounds the state's fundamental governing principles with a host of specific ordinances that do not belong in a constitution (this year, see especially Proposition 7). Accordingly, should voters decide to reject all the propositions on those grounds, we can't disagree. However, for those voters who believe that that train has long since left the Texas station, we offer specific notes on the 10 propositions (such as they are) and offer our endorsement in favor of all of them. (The most substantive propositions are marked with asterisks.)

Proposition 1: Yes

Would allow homestead property tax exemption to transfer to the surviving spouse of a totally disabled veteran.

Comment: Although we have traditionally opposed blanket exemptions as inevitably narrowing the common tax base, this one seems hard to object to – granted to the veteran, it should survive to his spouse and is limited to do only that.

Proposition 2: Yes*

Would allow the Texas Water Development Board to issue revenue bonds (for various water development and conservation projects), not to exceed a revolving $6 billion at any one time.

Comment: A statutory cap inevitably requires raising, so we can expect eventually to return to the polls on this proposition. However, this law would actually improve on the previous practice of setting a specific, one-time bond limit and requiring a return to the voters whenever it was reached (currently within $266 million of that limit). As long as the TWDB manages the funds responsibly (there was consensus testimony that it has done so), the fund should be flexible enough for some time.

Proposition 3: Yes*

Would permit issuance of general obligation bonds to finance educational loans to students.

Comment: This program would effectively continue an existing low-interest, fixed-rate student loan program (Hinson-Hazlewood, created in 1965 and managed by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board), which had a dollar limit periodically renewed and raised. This raises the current limit of $125 million to $350 million; the program has a long record of success and a good repayment record. Free public higher education would be the best alternative, but that's not currently in the cards. The market might one day blanch at these bonds, but they've been working well for nearly 60 years.

Proposition 4: Yes

Would grant to counties tax-increment financing of "unproductive, underdeveloped, or blighted areas," to be repaid by the TIF created for the development.

Comment: TIFs are already a municipal tool; this would extend bonding authority to counties. There is some opposition from anti-tax absolutists, although the program seems largely self-limiting. In Travis, it would likely enable better city-county collaboration on specific projects.

Proposition 5: Yes

Would permit certain city-county interlocal agreements without consequent debt fund requirements.

Comment: Under existing law, interlocal contracts longer than one year have been treated as incurring a debt obligation and therefore require a tax provision and sinking fund for the projected "debt." This provision would make it easier and more efficient to enter into interlocal agreements; it might even help with Austin-Travis County collaborations.

Proposition 6: Yes*

Would allow inclusion of permanent school fund real property assets in calculating the fund's market value (now confined to the value of the fund's investments), thereby increasing available monies ($300 million annually) for distribution to schools.

Comment: 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.

Proposition 7: Yes

Would let El Paso reclamation districts issue bonds for parks and recreation facilities.

Comment: 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.

Proposition 8: Yes*

Would allow water stewardship property tax exemptions for water conservation and protection.

Comment: 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.

Proposition 9: Yes

Would permit a governor's pardon for deferred adjudication cases, as now allowed in criminal convictions under special circumstances.

Comment: This is unlikely to affect many people, but it resolves an inconsistency in the law.

Proposition 10: Yes

Would extend by one month the current one-year "resign-to-run" (for another office) provision, in keeping with Senate Bill 100's change in the election filing dates.

Comment: 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.

Travis County Bond Propositions

Proposition 1 (Roads): Yes

Prop. 1 would approve a bond issuance totaling $132.8 million in road, drainage, bridge, and bike/pedestrian projects across the county; the most expensive projects are located in the northeast (Precinct 1): including widening Cameron Road from Howard Lane to Highway 130, with sidewalks and bike lanes ($15 million), and similar work along Blake-Manor Road ($14 million) and the future Wildhorse Connector ($9 million). There are 25 road improvement projects in all, as well as three miscellaneous items, including one specifically for additional bike lanes, and the county has committed to collaborate on planning with local biking organizations. Most of the roadway projects are in the eastern "desired development zone," and the roadway planning coincides with green space planning in the same area. While the project list will undoubtedly require additional citizen scrutiny as the work proceeds, on the whole these appear to be worthy and necessary projects.

Proposition 2 (Parks): Yes

Prop. 2 would approve $82.1 million in parks and land conservation projects, including a major acquisition of additional parkland near the Pedernales River ($22 million) and a sequence of green space acquisitions along Onion Creek, Eastern Creek, and Gille­land Creek near the Highway 130 corridor ($17 million in all). There are seven specific park projects, in addition to the acquisition of conservation easements, primarily for water quality protection areas.

Both propositions have been endorsed by a wide spectrum of local organizations, ranging from several environmental groups to various business organizations, and the $215 million worth of total projects (Prop. 1 and 2) was winnowed by a citizens advisory committee from a list of countywide needs of more than $600 million. Overall, we believe the two propositions form a balanced approach to Travis County infrastructure needs, and we encourage you to vote yes on both propositions.

See detailed analyses of the constitutional amendments at the Texas Legislative Council website, www.tlc.state.tx.us/const_amends.htm. See more info on the Travis County bond propositions at www.co.travis.tx.us/citizens_bond_committee and at www.travistwostep.com. A sample ballot is posted on the County Clerk's Elec­tions Divi­sion website: www.traviscountyelections.org.

You may vote at any early voting location in the county in which you are registered. On Election Day, voters must vote in their precincts. Get a list of precinct locations at 238-VOTE or www.traviscountyelections.org.

Williamson County info: www.wilco.org/elections or 943-1630. Hays County info: www.elections.co.hays.tx.us or 393-7310.

Early Voting Locations

Early voting polls are open Monday-Friday, 7am-7pm, Saturday, 8am-6pm, and Sunday, noon-6pm, unless noted otherwise.

CENTRAL

Travis County Offices, 5501 Airport

Fiesta, 3909 N. I-35

University of Texas, Flawn Academic Center lobby, West Mall (Mon.-Fri., 8am-6pm; closed Sat.-Sun.)

Howson Library, 2500 Exposition (Mon.-Wed., 10am-7pm; Fri., 10am-6pm; Sat., 10am-5pm; closed Thu. & Sun.)

NORTH

Ben Hur Shriners Hall, 7811 Rockwood

Chinatown Center, 10901 N. Lamar Ste. B-206

NORTHEAST

County Tax Office, 15822 Foothill Farms Loop, Pflugerville

SOUTH

Randalls, 2025 W. Ben White

H-E-B, 2400 S. Congress*

SOUTHEAST

Dan Ruiz Library, 1600 Grove (Mon.-Thu., 10am-7pm; Sat., 10am-5pm; closed Fri. & Sun.)

SOUTHWEST

Randalls, 6600 MoPac S.

Randalls, 9911 Brodie

NORTHWEST

Randalls, 10900-D Research

EAST

Parque Zaragosa Recreation Center, 2608 Gonzales (Mon.-Fri., 10am-7pm; Sat., 10am-5pm; closed Sun.)

Carver Museum, 1165 Angelina (Mon.-Thu., 10am-6pm; Fri.-Sat., 10am-4pm; closed Sun.)

WEST

Randalls, 3300 Bee Caves Rd., West Lake

Randalls, 2301 RR 620 S.

* Temp building in parking lot

MOBILE VOTING

Thursday, Nov. 3

Serene Hills Elementary, 3301 Serene Hills Dr., 7am-7pm

Travis County Courthouse, 1000 Guadalupe, 8am-5pm

Lago Vista City Hall, 5803 Thunderbird, 9am-5pm

Friday, Nov. 4

Travis County Courthouse, 1000 Guadalupe, 8am-5pm

Summit at Westlake Hills, 1034 Liberty Park, 8-11am

Lago Vista ISD Viking Hall Boardroom, 8039 Bar-K Ranch Road, 10am-7pm

CE-Bar Fire Department, 353 S. Commons Ford Rd., 1-6pm

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