Chronicle Endorsements for the Propositions on the November Ballot
November 2021 Statewide General Election and City of Austin Special Election
Our shtick for many years was to recommend voting down any and all proposed Texas constitutional amendments (there have been more than 500 since 1876), as a rational expression of protest to this bizarre and absurd way of running a government. This time, we could extend that condemnation to the city of Austin propositions; Save Austin Now's second citizen initiative in as many elections has demonstrated the need for several reforms of the direct-democracy provisions of the City Charter. But there are no comments or customer review sections on the ballot, just up-or-down choices; the Chronicle offers these endorsements to help you make those choices.
Proposition 1: FOR
Raffles! Rodeos! Raffles at rodeos! Why are we voting on this? Because it's gambling, which Texas law is designed to inhibit with much moral grandstanding. This measure simply allows the pro rodeo leagues to offer the same game-day contests that are commonplace at other pro sports venues.
Proposition 2: FOR
We generally believe in giving more power to Texas counties, allowing them to do what cities can, and that they and their voters can decide whether and how to use it. This is a perfect example; in many places in Texas the county is the only local government that should or could be in the infrastructure business, and this measure eliminates barriers that keep counties from using debt financing to build infrastructure in the same ways cities do routinely.
Proposition 3: AGAINST
This is just dumb. Last year, as the enormity of the COVID-19 pandemic set in, Gov. Greg Abbott allowed for 12 whole days limits to the size of in-person religious services. He then quickly had his mind changed, amid much bloviating about the freedom of faith, but it was too late. Now we have a constitutional amendment to make sure that never happens again. Meanwhile, as of this writing, nearly 68,000 Texans, more people than live in Pflugerville or Georgetown or San Marcos, are dead from COVID.
Proposition 4: AGAINST
When people in power are unhappy with the choices made by voters, they do stuff like this, which would make it substantially harder for younger, more diverse, and dare we say more progressive lawyers to become judges in Texas. The need for more stringent qualifications wasn't evident to the state's GOP elites (which include many wack jobs who were nonetheless elevated to judicial benches) until they started losing court elections en masse to Democratic slates in the urban counties. Now it's a crisis. You get the picture.
Proposition 5: AGAINST
This is another attempt to game judicial elections. In the abstract, it would be good if the state's legal institutions, such as the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, had a more useful and visible role to play in helping local voters decide these very low-information races. In practice, this is a recipe for chaos and mischief designed to give rival campaigns a chance to go negative without real consequence, much the same way that complaints to the Texas Ethics Commission are filed now. We can live without it.
Proposition 6: FOR
We reported extensively last year on the impact of COVID-19 visitor restrictions on nursing home residents whose family members were unable to monitor their care. Overlapping local, state, and federal regulatory authority of long-term care facilities made the rules ambiguous. This amendment would clearly define a state constitutional right for residents to name an essential caregiver who can visit them in such circumstances.
Propositions 7 and 8: AGAINST
These are both tweaks to existing state law regarding what property tax homestead exemptions can continue to be claimed by the surviving spouse of a deceased owner. Prop 7 applies when the owner was disabled (lowering the surviving spouse's age of eligibility to 55), Prop 8 to service members killed in the line of duty (as opposed to "in combat" as current law reads). To support them in good faith, one must support the exemptions themselves, which we do not. We are all for making it easier for taxing entities in Texas to account for personal hardship; we do not think that linking favorable tax treatment to moralistic virtue signaling is the way to go. Our democracy is in crisis precisely because the people who run this place want to preserve the benefits of good government for whom they deem the right kind of people; this is more of that, and it should be rejected.
Proposition A: AGAINST
Our emphatic recommendation to vote against the Save Austin Now 2.0 police staffing scheme should come as no surprise. We hope it has more influence on the Nov. 2 outcome than did our likewise emphatic opposition to SAN's camping ban back in May. At least back then, there was an apparent problem, visible to all, to be solved. City Hall's approach to homelessness wasn't working as desired, and Austinites took advantage of the opportunity to send a message. The practical impact has, as we predicted, been barely relevant. That won't be the case at all should Prop A pass, even though there is no problem facing Austin right now that requires hiring several hundred more police officers and irrevocably locking up an enormous amount of taxpayer money for generations to come. (We still believe that City Council, citing its own charter and state law, should have simply refused to put Prop A on the ballot as an impermissible attempt to force taxing and spending choices upon future city leaders. That's notwithstanding the clearly unethical and probably illegal moves SAN made during its petition drive. But we digress.) Murder in Austin has gone from "vanishingly rare" to "extremely rare" during the Prop A campaign, part of a nationwide trend. This is a fortuitous accident for Save Austin Now's multimillion-dollar campaign machine but should be nothing more than noise to responsible Austin voters who know that they live in one of America's safest big cities, full stop. The 2.0 staffing and "uncommitted time" components of Prop A have been on the wish list of the city's police union since the 1990s, but were rejected as wasteful featherbedding even back when there was approximately zero pressure upon local leaders to stand up to the cop lobby and for those harmed by police misconduct. A generation later, we all – even our new, hired-from-within-APD police chief – know what we need to do to right-size and update our public safety systems to align with Austinites' values. We know that better alternatives to armed police response exist for preventing violence and helping Austinites in crisis. Those alternatives will disappear if we don't say no, loudly, to the dishonest fearmongering of grifters who want Austin to keep shoveling tax money into the noisy, dirty old engine that makes the "Back the Blue!" train go around in circles.
Proposition B: FOR
You're being asked to vote on this now because this city-owned parcel on S. Lakeshore Boulevard (home to the Parks and Recreation Department's maintenance yard) was designated as public parkland decades ago. It's never been open to the public, and there's no pressing need for it to be parkland now; it's flanked by some of the most heavily used elements of Austin's park system (the Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail's boardwalk segment, the Krieg Field sports complex, and the Roy G. Guerrero Colorado River Park) that PARD is strapped to maintain as it is. If an adjoining landowner to a public parcel – which in this case happens to be Oracle Corporation – that wasn't designated as parkland offered a swap that would leave the city with more money and more land than it started with, it's really hard to imagine any City Council saying no. The fact that this is going to the voters, even if that's the fruit of statutes and policy choices adopted before most Austinites were born, makes it more transparent than many deals the city has gotten itself into. So far, that scrutiny has yet to reveal any obvious downsides or any alternative scenarios that we should prefer to the one on offer (which is, even if Prop B prevails, still not a done deal). There's no need to stand in its way.