Chronicle Endorsements for the November 5 Election
In advance of the Nov. 5 election, the Chronicle editorial board offers the following endorsements. Find more information about the election – including polling locations, voter ID requirements, and more on what's on the ballot – at the Chronicle's Elections hub.
State Constitutional Amendments (Propositions 1-10)
We have long opposed the legislative practice of substituting constitutional referenda for representative government, and of cluttering up what should be a bedrock set of state principles with measures – often quite trivial – that should be dealt with elsewhere. So voters should feel free to respond with a blanket "Against" to all 10 of these propositions. Nevertheless, here are specific recommendations for anyone who prefers more detail.
Prop 1: For. Sure, the state's elected municipal judges should be able to serve in more than one city at the same time, since appointed judges can already do so. See what we mean about trivial? We couldn't even tell you which Texas cities still elect their municipal judges (Austin doesn't), but those that do apparently have trouble finding qualified jurists.
Prop 2: For. This would extend the Texas Water Development Board's Economically Distressed Areas Program (EDAP) with up to $200 million in new funding. This is the third time the state (this time led by Rep. Mary González, D-El Paso) has had to beg voters for funds to provide safe water to poor people (prior measures passed in 1989 and 2007).
Prop 3: Against. This post-Harvey disaster relief measure sounds wholesome but is messier than need be. The law it's tied to requires localities to grant tax exemptions (regardless of their post-disaster fiscal needs) to impacted properties until they next set their tax rates, after which the exemptions are optional. Is that better than the current law, under which ravaged properties are reappraised and adjusted in value? Only if you pretend that increasingly frequent and severe disaster is an unforeseeable act of fate.
Prop 4: Against(!). This would prohibit the state from imposing an individual income tax, which it of course has never done, and which has been a third-rail issue for generations, and which would already require statewide voter approval thanks to previous GOP tub-thumping on this issue, despite it being a more efficient and equitable way to fund public services. This is pure base-scratching bullshit to "send a message," by its supporters' own admission.
Prop 5: For. This would appropriate state sales taxes on sporting goods to fund parks and preservation efforts. That's been state law since 1993, but that hasn't stopped the Lege, particularly in the past decade, from raiding the kitty to plug other holes in its budgets; this measure is supposed to tie their thievin' hands.
Prop 6: No endorsement. Like Prop 2, this extends the life of an existing program – the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, authorized by voters with $3 billion in 2007. CPRIT rather promptly fell into scandal and barely survived the Lege's wrath in 2011, but things have calmed down since, and this measure would give it $3 billion more. We of course do not oppose curing, treating, and preventing cancer. Why the state should have a stand-alone agency investing in that outcome by awarding grants instead of simply adequately funding the Texas medical schools, research hospitals, public health agencies, et al. that now compete for those grants is a philosophical question we leave to the voter.
Prop 7: For. This simply raises the constitutional cap on annual disbursements from the state's Permanent School Fund from $300 million to $600 million – money that's already been included in the 2020-21 budget as part of the school-finance package adopted this year. Why does this cap exist?
Prop 8: For. In 2013, when state leaders and voters were panicked by long droughts, they created SWIFT – the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas – as a special TWDB fund, seeded by a $2 billion transfer from the rainy day fund. Now that we have the opposite problem, this measure would create a Flood Infrastructure Fund along the same lines, with $793 million in rainy day money already included in the 2020-21 budget. This is probably the most sensible of this year's amendments.
Prop 9: Against. Did you know Texas has a state-owned precious metal depository – our own li'l Fort Knox? It's been a goofy project of Gov. Abbott and other Texas leaders for years, with a lot of loose, base-pleasing talk about "repatriating" our assets from New York bank vaults. (This has not happened.) You can put your own stash in the state's hands, and this measure would exempt it from property taxes! It's a pretty naked marketing ploy to get out-of-state goldbugs to deposit their hoards in Texas and a ridiculous thing to put to voters.
Prop 10: For. This is also a ridiculous thing to put to voters, but so much more heartwarming! This measure would allow police dogs (or any "law enforcement animals") to be transferred to their handlers or others, for example, upon their retirement, without having to be sold as surplus public property. Who's a good boy?
Travis County Proposition A: For
Travis County doesn't have a convention center, but it does own the Expo Center in far East Austin. It also doesn't have a hotel occupancy tax; this measure would levy a 2-cent HOT on room rentals – funds earmarked to rehab the Expo Center, a goal of both county leaders (notably Pct. 1 Commissioner Jeff Travillion) and the center's major tenant, Rodeo Austin. That's put the county and city at odds, since Austin has raised its own HOT to the state-allowed maximum (for now); thus, the Expo Center tax would only be collected outside the city limits (for now). There's plenty of dealmaking to come, also contingent on the fate of city Proposition B, but we think voters should take the presently harmless step of allowing that conversation to happen.
City of Austin Prop A: Against
Fighting over soccer is so 2018, which is when this now-zombified citizen initiative to thwart the city's McKalla Place stadium deal with Austin FC (by requiring a supermajority Council vote and then voter approval for such deals) was first taken to the streets by the now-defunct IndyAustin campaign group. The anti-soccer petition drive was intermingled with IndyAustin's just-a-little-too-Nazi efforts to harm Mayor Steve Adler, which cost them the financial support of Circuit of the Americas owner Bobby Epstein – who owns Austin's other, non-MLS soccer franchise as well as a big competing sports venue. Epstein fitfully bankrolled pro-Prop A efforts for a few months, until other city partners on "sports and entertainment" projects ensnared by the poorly drafted citizen ordinance – the Long Center, the Trail of Lights, the YMCA, and others – came out against Prop A as a threat to their well-loved, unproblematic efforts. Now, the Prop A campaign is in the hands of a few neighbors of the McKalla Place site, who lost this fight at City Hall a long time ago. Enough is enough.
City of Austin Prop B: Against
If this were just a measure to ask voters if they want to expand and rebuild the Neal W. Kocurek Austin Convention Center, we'd be a lot more keen on it. Many good people who love this city think that should be standard practice for all big city projects, not just the ones whose bonds are repaid through property taxes – both as good governance and as a way to build community support for civic goals. (Unlike Travis County, the city already has voter authorization to collect its hotel taxes.) Some go further to argue the city charter already requires such elections, but obviously City Hall doesn't agree with that reading, and Prop B's backers haven't relied on it either in their misshapen, confused campaign. If approved, Prop B would require voter approval for an expansion, cap the amount of city hotel tax revenue that can be spent on the convention center at a number its backers pulled out of their whatevers, and grab the rest of the cash for stuff they and their friends feel we deserve as Austin citizens. Now, the state slaps cities down repeatedly for such antics – trying to spend HOT funds on their own needs rather than tourism infrastructure. But state law is also filled with exceptions to the HOT statutes that allow cities to use their money in unique ways to develop themselves as destinations, and Austin could do that, too. If the dozen or so people who cut four- and five-figure checks to bankroll Prop B were less convinced of their own superior virtue or less wedded to performative civic outrage, they could have joined with the folks actually doing the work here (many of whom are now allied in the campaign against this measure) to get outcomes they like. They're going to the voters instead to flip the sandbox because they and their plans don't have that kind of support and frankly don't deserve it.