Endorsements

Travis County Bond Election

If there's a beef we've got with this particular November election, it's along the lines of, "Is this exercise in futility really necessary?" In too large part, the answer is a resounding No! The Travis County ballot is disfigured not only by the trivial, redundant, and/or reactionary proposed constitutional amendments generated by the Lege, but also by 24 (count 'em, 24!) charter amendment propositions confined in relevance to 219 voters in those portions of Travis Co. Precinct 372 which happen to fall in the Democratic Republic of Leander, aka the Wide Spot in the Road out on Highway 183. Would it be too much to ask that those folks all meet down at City Hall and decide whether the City Council must "approve the job descriptions of every employee" (Prop. 10)?

Far be it from this Council of Wise Elders to dictate the governance processes of Leanderians.

Even the Village of Bee Cave gets its own little sales tax proposition – if it applies to you, you already know who you are. There are also a couple of local Travis Co. EMS merger/annexation propositions – we say bring 'em all in, and God bless.

But there is, in fact, one substantive section of the ballot, tucked down in the lower left-hand corner (just above the Leander Place 5 special election, portions of Precinct 372). It lists three propositions, covering $150 million in county bonds: roads, parks, and jail. That's all the ballot will tell you, and if you visit the Travis Co. Web site, there is precious little information about the projects – the Citizens Bond Advisory Committee had earlier posted some very useful stuff, but that's mostly been replaced by extreme compressions of the available information, leavened with impenetrable legal jargon. (There is a handy if abbreviated brochure and map available there, or at the County Clerk's office, that gives the basics.)

So it's been unnecessarily difficult to sort out the details. But in fact, these particular bond packages make a lot of public sense, are not particularly expensive (a few dollars per year per homeowner), and we just wish the county were more adept at stating its case. In its stumbling absence, we'll try to do the job, below. – The Chronicle Editorial Board


Bond Proposition No. 1: Yes.

$65,225,000 in road bonds and the levying of the tax in payment thereof. Most of the road projects to be undertaken are in the eastern part of the county, with a particular emphasis on road improvements made necessary with the progress of SH 130. We weren't particularly enthusiastic about the highway, but it is in progress, and it will need an adequate secondary system so that residential neighborhoods nearby aren't overwhelmed. There is also some Southwest road funding – frankly not much – the most controversial being the Reimers-Peacock road plans that seem largely a sop to would-be developers and aren't wanted even by many of the nearby Hamilton Pool Road homeowners. But this is design funding only – still just a gleam in the planners' eyes – and it's a very small part of the much larger and necessary road/drainage proposition, countywide. We recommend your support.


Bond Proposition No. 2: Yes.

$62,250,000 in park bonds and the levying of the tax in payment thereof. This too is an omnibus package of parks, floodplain buyouts, and open-space acquisition. The highlight is the Reimer's Ranch preservation acquisition (500 acres to become Southwest Metro Park land), as well as nearby open space, the Onion Creek parkland and open space near 71 East and 290, and various floodplain buyout projects (also East) that are both rational and forward-looking. Various environmental and citizens' groups promoted the parks plan, and the commissioners responded, with the most common refrain being, "We only wish it could be more." We enthusiastically recommend approval.


Bond Proposition No. 3: Yes.

$23,500,000 in jail facility bonds and the levying of the tax in payment thereof. In previous news reports, we've occasionally hammered the county for major and minor problems in its jail facilities, and we've hardly been alone. If for no other reason, the jail needs improvement and expansion because there aren't sufficient beds or services for the inmates incarcerated there, and dozens are now shipped to Frio County (at great local expense). This bond will help bring the jail facility up to state standards – hardly an impossible stretch – and expand or improve service-related facilities that should serve inmates, guards, and citizens alike. As long as we're jailing them, we should at least try to do it right. Vote yes.




CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS


Proposition 1: NO.

"The constitutional amendment creating the Texas rail relocation and improvement fund and authorizing grants of money and issuance of obligations for financing the relocation, rehabilitation, and expansion of rail facilities." The "Texas Rail Relocation and Improvement Fund" sounds just "TERRIF!" – like something the River City Citizens' Auxiliary might put together on a volunteer basis, underwritten by bake sales and lemonade stands. Alas, it's yet another gesture by the state to underwrite the expenses (via bonding authority) of private industry – in this case, the relocation of major rail lines that are either getting crowded by urban growth (e.g., the MoPac) or else figure in Gov. Perry's grandiose plans for the Trans-Texas Corridor (or both). We might be more interested in such notions if the public ever received an equity interest for our massive investments – somehow that's an idea whose time has not yet come. In that case, we say let the railroads pay their own way.


Proposition 2: NO!

"The constitutional amendment providing that marriage in this state consists only of the union of one man and one woman and prohibiting this state or a political subdivision of this state from creating or recognizing any legal status identical or similar to marriage." This is the most outrageous proposition on the ballot, the most direct assault on human rights and privacy rights, and the most blatant attempt to write bigotry into the Texas Constitution since the Civil War. It's also totally unnecessary as a legal matter and goes beyond "defining" marriage to outlawing civil unions as well as threatening the contractual and legal rights already represented in domestic partnerships and even common law marriages. We could wax apoplectic against official pandering and gay-bashing at great length, but we expect regular Chronicle readers are largely in agreement in opposing this ridiculous amendment. Unfortunately, it's not enough to despise it in private – we need every one of you, and all your friends and relatives, to get out on Election Day (or before) and vote to prevent the state of Texas from joining this march to take part in modern History of Infamy.


Proposition 3: NO.

"The constitutional amendment clarifying that certain economic development programs do not constitute a debt." Proposition 3 actually has a local hook – Save Our Springs Alliance won a lawsuit against the Village of Bee Caves to stop the open-ended municipal underwriting of an ecologically (and financially) dubious shopping center that would bind future village governments to subsidize a private developer without even a mechanism or fund established to do so. The court's ruling is specific and the case is on appeal, but the Lege is so hot and bothered about any interference in "economic development" (i.e., public subsidy of private profit) that it wants voters to ratify any and all "380 agreements" (so named from a section of the Local Government Code) without considering the fine print. Moreover, the ballot language is so vague as to constitute an insolent joke on the citizens, and should be rejected for that alone.


Proposition 4: NO.

"The constitutional amendment authorizing the denial of bail to a criminal defendant who violates a condition of the defendant's release pending trial." This is a solution in search of a problem, and again drafted in such vague language that even those who might support it should pause – just what "conditions" does it have in mind and how precisely is such a denial authorized? Supporters claim there are certain felons who just can't be relied on to honor their bail commitments and that some pose a "danger to the community." Even if occasionally true, there are other ways of dealing judicially or legislatively with the problem than by writing yet more specific legal exemptions into the state constitution. A simple one is assessing a higher bail – not denying altogether such a basic protection against unjust imprisonment.


Proposition 5: NO.

"The constitutional amendment allowing the legislature to define rates of interest for commercial loans." The Lege is worried that poor Texas bankers are not able to charge more than 10% interest (currently defined as usury) on commercial loans, as they can in 46 other states. The commercial minimums in the bill enabling this amendment would be set at $7 million for real property and $500,000 for other commercial loans, thereby selling the amendment as aimed only at "sophisticated commercial borrowers." And if you buy that, we've got some lakefront property in Levelland we'd like you to take a loan on. This is a foot-in-the-door amendment to give the banks whatever they want and undermine the anti-usury limits altogether. Just the flat notion of "allowing the legislature to define rates of interest" calls up a cloud of unknowing and suspicion, and makes us suggest throwing some sand in these particular gears.


Proposition 6: NO.

"The constitutional amendment to include one additional public member and a constitutional county court judge in the membership of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct." The ballot language doesn't say that the amendment would also eliminate geographic representation on the commission, thereby both misleading the voters and in theory allowing the greater packing of the commission. In truth, it probably doesn't matter one whit whether the commission has 11 or 13 members, since judges virtually have to commit blatant public felonies or be barking insane to be subject to disciplinary action; we doubt seriously that adding a couple of commissioners will do much about that institutional problem. Choose your quorum.


Propositional 7: NO.

"The constitutional amendment authorizing line-of-credit advances under a reverse mortgage." Like Proposition 5, this is a gift to the bankers under the guise of helping creditors, in this case retired homeowners (over 62) whose only asset is their home and who will be wanting to borrow against it on the uneasy gamble that they'll die before the equity entirely runs out. Reverse mortgages (borrowing against the whole value) are already legalized in Texas (2003). This amendment would create "lines of credit" to draw down smaller loan advances that often look reasonable but can quickly accumulate into heavy debt burdens – a circumstance ripe for abuse by unscrupulous lenders and an invitation to penury for unsophisticated or desperate borrowers. Why make it easier to fleece small-home owners?


Proposition 8: NO.

"The constitutional amendment providing for the clearing of land titles by relinquishing and releasing any state claim to sovereign ownership or title to interest in certain land in Upshur County and in Smith County." Title to several thousand acres in the two counties was under dispute because of apparent vacancies in land surveys stretching back more than 100 years. The General Land Office has already relinquished claim to the bulk of the land (in Upshur Co.), but another 950 acres (in Smith Co.) remain under dispute and in court. The problem is that should the state simply clear the titles (as the amendment proposes), the Permanent School Fund could lose rights to millions in potential mineral revenue (not exactly chickenfeed these days). While there has been much hysteria about property rights, if the surveys are wrong you in fact don't own the property; the case is still pending and should be litigated, and the constitution shouldn't be a handy bludgeon to settle complicated land disputes.


Proposition 9: NO.

"The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to provide for a six-year term for a board member of a regional mobility authority." This proposition also has a local hook, one tangent in the ongoing battle over Central Texas toll roads. The Lege allowed six-year terms for regional mobility authorities, but a successful lawsuit by anti-toll warriors People for Efficient Transportation won a ruling that the constitution prohibited terms of more than two years. This seemingly technical dispute – heated because of the fiery toll issue – turns on whether voters think, for commissioners charged with supervising massive transportation projects, two years is too short or six too long. On balance, we think both, and that a reasonable length should be four years (coinciding with county commissioners, who appoint RMA commissioners), but that in any case, the only way for voters to voice their seemingly general opposition to tolls is to vote against this amendment and Proposition 1 (the railroad subsidy amendment). Moreover, once again: What is this doing in the state constitution? end story


EARLY VOTING

Early voting for the Tuesday, Nov. 8, Travis County joint special elections runs through Friday, Nov. 4. All locations, except malls and mobile voting sites, are open 7am-7pm. Northcross Mall and Highland Mall are open 9am-8pm. For information on election day polling places, including mobile voting times and locations, call 238-VOTE or see www.traviscountyelections.org.

CENTRAL

Travis Co. Tax Office, 5501 Airport Blvd.

Travis Co. Courthouse, 1000 Guadalupe

Fiesta Mart, 3909 N. I-35

University of Texas, UGL lobby (West Mall, UT Campus)

Randalls, 1500 W. 35th

NORTH

Highland Mall, 6001 Airport Blvd. (lower level, by JCPenney)

Randalls, 1700 W. Parmer at Metric Boulevard

Northcross Mall, 2525 W. Anderson

NORTHEAST

Albertsons, 11331 N. Lamar*

County Tax Office, Pflugerville, 15822 Foothill Farms Loop

NORTHWEST

Randalls, 10900-D Research at Braker Lane

HEB, 7301 FM 620 N.*

SOUTH

HEB, 2400 S. Congress*

Randalls, 2025 W. Ben White at Manchaca

SOUTHEAST

Albertsons, 1819 S. Pleasant Valley*

Albertsons, 5510 S. I-35 at Stassney

SOUTHWEST

Randalls, 6600 S. Mopac at William Cannon

Randalls, 9911 Brodie at Slaughter

EAST

HEB, 2701 E. Seventh*

Northeast Health Center, 7112 Ed Bluestein #155 (Springdale Shopping Center)

WEST

Randalls, 3300 Bee Caves Rd.

Randalls, 2303 RR 620 S.

* temporary building in parking lot

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