'The Austin Chronicle' Endorsements
Early voting begins Monday, Oct. 19, for the Nov. 3 election on state constitutional amendments. This year there are 11 proposed amendments for a document that a long series of cowardly legislatures have thoroughly transformed from a statement of basic governmental principles into a confounding laundry list of miscellaneous regulation that should instead have been confined, for good or ill, to the representative legislative process. (That's why we elect representatives.) As a result, we generally encourage voters to consider rejecting all the propositions, as exercises in misleading choice and fake democracy, indeed a mockery of democracy.
For those who prefer finer distinctions, we note that of the 11 propositions, only two (Proposition 4, creating a new higher education fund, and Proposition 9, addressing public ownership of beaches) approach constitutional importance. The rest are either ill-considered (1, 2, and 11), or so trivial that it's a waste of public money and energy for us to be voting on them. Here's the ballot language, along with our recommendations. Vote as you will.
Proposition 1: ... authorizing the financing, including through tax increment financing, of the acquisition by municipalities and counties of buffer areas or open spaces adjacent to a military installation for the prevention of encroachment or for the construction of roadways, utilities, or other infrastructure to protect or promote the mission of the military installation.
NO – We've had quite enough of state-subsidized militarism (and the Lege didn't even bother to authorize the bonds). Let the bases rub up against the neighborhoods where they live.
Proposition 2: ... authorizing the legislature to provide for the ad valorem taxation of a residence homestead solely on the basis of the property's value as a residence homestead.
NO – Just another backdoor way to slash taxes on valuable property, thereby undermining the public schools and other community needs.
Proposition 3: ... providing for uniform standards and procedures for the appraisal of property for ad valorem tax purposes.
YES – but trivial. If constitutional authorization is needed for uniform standards, the government's doing it wrong.
Proposition 4: ... establishing the national research university fund to enable emerging research universities in this state to achieve national prominence as major research universities and transferring the balance of the higher education fund to the national research university fund.
YES – A valiant attempt to provide potential research funding to institutions other than the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M, in the hopes of eventually expanding the number of major research universities statewide. Good luck, since we don't fund the ones we have.
Proposition 5: ... authorizing the legislature to authorize a single board of equalization for two or more adjoining appraisal entities that elect to provide for consolidated equalizations.
YES – but entirely trivial. If you need to do this by constitution, you don't have one.
Proposition 6: ... authorizing the Veterans' Land Board to issue general obligation bonds in amounts equal to or less than amounts previously authorized.
YES – but regulatory. This allows rollover bond authority without a special authorization every single time; it's not a constitutional matter.
Proposition 7: ... to allow an officer or enlisted member of the Texas State Guard or other state militia or military force to hold other civil offices.
YES – When the current exceptions to "double-dipping" were written, everybody but the state guard or similar militia was included. The more, the merrier.
Proposition 8: ... authorizing the state to contribute money, property, and other resources for the establishment, maintenance, and operation of veterans hospitals in this state.
YES – but we frankly can't believe it takes a constitutional amendment to get this done, and even the sponsors weren't sure.
Proposition 9: ... to protect the right of the public, individually and collectively, to access and use the public beaches bordering the seaward shore of the Gulf of Mexico.
YES – A very good amendment. This is actually an important defense of the constitutional right of all Texans – but not currently stated in the constitution – of permanent access to public beaches without interference from developers or other private interests.
Proposition 10: ... to provide that elected members of the governing boards of emergency services districts may serve terms not to exceed four years.
YES – but trivial, and this belongs in ordinary legislation, not the state constitution.
Proposition 11: ... to prohibit the taking, damaging, or destroying of private property for public use unless the action is for the ownership, use, and enjoyment of the property by the State, a political subdivision of the State, the public at large, or entities granted the power of eminent domain under law or for the elimination of urban blight on a particular parcel of property, but not for certain economic development or enhancement of tax revenue purposes, and to limit the legislature's authority to grant the power of eminent domain to an entity.
NO – While in general we don't care for land seizures for private development, this is yet another poorly drafted attempt to amplify the current property-rightist wave of eminent domain hysteria and an invitation to endless court fights over rational public policy.