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Propositioning the people: 10 proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution

Propositioning the people: 10 proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution
Voters lined up to cast their ballots at Eastfield for the 2018 primaries. Et Cetera file photo

On Nov. 5, Texans will have their say on a list of proposed changes to the state constitution. Since the constitution took effect in 1876, voters have amended it a whopping 498 times out of 680 proposals.

Here’s a brief summary of the proposed amendments.

—Erik Krouskop

Prop 1 (House Joint Resolution 72)

This proposition would allow municipal judges — who handle small claims, misdemeanors and pretrial hearings — to hold multiple offices in different counties at the same time. Many smaller cities don’t have a municipal judge, and this would allow a judge from a larger neighboring community to act as judge for the smaller one. Opponents say these judges won’t understand the interests of the communities they serve because they do not live there.

Prop 2 (Senate Joint Resolution 79)

This amendment would allow the state to issue bonds up to $200 million to fund the development of water supply and sewage projects in economically distressed areas. This would result in more reliable funding than using the state’s General Revenue Fund, which is up to legislative whim at every budget renewal.

To qualify for funds, the area must have a median income of less than 75 percent of the state’s median income, about $42,788

Opponents argue that states should avoid mandatory funds like this and use the general revenue fund, as it allows for funding flexibility when needed. Others contend that this is a local issue and should be handled at the local level, not by the state.

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Prop 3 (HJR 34)

Recovering from a disaster like flooding can take a toll on a community, and this proposition seeks to allow temporarily exempting some affected properties in stricken areas from property taxes. Depending on the amount of damage, the exemption could be from 15 to 100 percent. Local governments in affected areas would determine whether to adopt the exemption and how long it would be in effect.

Arguments against the proposal are that any relief should be mandatory rather than determined by the local government, and it shouldn’t be left up to jurisdictions to decide who qualifies. Opponents also say that the potentially long and expensive reappraisal process would still be a problem.

Prop 4 (HJR 38)

Proposition 4 has raised eyebrows not just for what it would do — permanently ban a state individual income tax — but for how it is written.

A “yes” vote bans future income taxes, while a “no” vote leaves things the way they are. Some, including Wichita County Tax Assessor/Collector Tommy Smyth, believe that wording is confusing.

Since 1993 state law already requires a public referendum to enact a state individual income tax, opponents say the ban is unnecessary. The 1993 law also requires that the revenue of any income tax go to education. Other opposition claims are that an income tax could reduce business tax burdens, and that Texas’ needs may change over time, making an income tax desirable in the future.

Supporters counter that the lack of individual income tax supports population growth, and ties in to Texas’ current low-tax, pro-growth stance. They also note that a University of Texas at Austin and Texas Tribune poll found that 71 percent of residents are opposed to an income tax.

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Prop 5 (SJR 24)

Tax revenues on sporting goods like those for hunting and fishing are meant to support Texas Parks and Wildlife and the Texas Historical Commission. This proposal would close a loophole that allows those funds to be shifted elsewhere to balance the state budget, leaving those agencies underfunded.

However opponents fear that it would limit budget flexibility with mandated expenditures.

Prop 6 (HJR 12)

Funding for cancer research in Texas has two main sources: the federal government and the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT). Current funding for CPRIT is set to run out in 2022, and Proposition 6 reauthorizes the Legislature to double the bond amount to $6 billion from the initial $3 billion to continue funding of the program.

Those opposing the change would rather develop a plan to make the institute self-sufficient for funding.

Prop 7 (HJR 151)

This proposal deals primarily with the seedy underworld of state accounting and how funds get managed and moved around between dedicated accounting funds. It would increase the amount of money that the State Board of Education can disperse from the Permanent School Fund into the Available School Fund to be given to school districts.

The Permanent School Fund is land and other assets held by the state to generate interest and mineral royalties to help fund education in the state. That land is leased, sold and bought by the board, and money brought in goes into the fund. A percentage of that money is dispensed by the Board of Education into the Available School Fund to pay education expenses.

Opponents argue that with less money in the permanent fund, future disbursements could end up being smaller. Proponents counter that only interest and not principal is dispersed, and that the amendment would improve education funding while lowering the reliance on local property taxes.

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Prop 8 (HJR 4)

Texas doesn’t have a fund set up to finance flood control projects, and Prop 8 seeks to change that by establishing the Flood Infrastructure Fund. The proposal would take $793 million out of the state’s Rainy Day Fund to set establish it. The fund would then make loans or sometimes grants to local governments to finance construction of drainage and flood mitigation and control projects.

Federal funding for these types of projects often requires matching expenditures at the local level, and this would allow the state to help those communities access those funds. The local governments could only qualify for state money after submitting a technical analysis of the plans and a proposal for paying off the loans.

Prop 9 (HJR 95)

In 2018 Texas created a precious metals repository. To make it more competitive the Legislature is asking for authorization to exempt precious metal holdings from property taxes to encourage people to use the depository. The exemption would only apply to metals held within the state, bringing the laws more in line with other states that do not tax precious metal investments.

Some believe that the amendment is unnecessary because Texas counties rarely enforce the tax now. Supporters say that an official exemption would better the odds that the state repository can join COMEX, the top marketplace for commodity and precious metal exchange.

Prop 10 (SJR 32)

Prop 10 allows for handlers to adopt law enforcement animals for free. Currently, the law does not distinguish between animals and other property of the government, so when an animal is to be retired the only options are auction, donation, or if no one is willing to pony up for them, death.

Proposition 10 clears the way for the animal to be homed permanently with the handler they have lived and bonded with during their service free of charge and ensure a nice, happy retirement for four-legged officers.

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