Early voting has begun in this year's Texas constitutional amendment election, our periodic reminder that our 90,000-word, 456-amendment Constitution is a verbose, voluminous mess overdue for overhaul.
But that's not happening anytime soon, if ever, so it's time for you to pass judgment on issues that really ought to be taken care of by lawmakers, not voters. Here's the cold, bold truth about this election: If everything you know about the proposals to amend the Constitution is on the ballot, you are not a fully informed voter.
By way of example, Proposition 7:
"The constitutional amendment to allow an officer or enlisted member of the Texas State Guard or other state militia or military force to hold other civil offices."
Your choices are "for" or "against." Some of you will pine for a third option: "Huh?"
Lawmakers this year approved 11 proposed constitutional amendments for your consideration. On Sunday, we backed Proposition 4, allowing the use of state money to help state universities achieve the coveted tier-one status.
Today, we offer guidance on the other amendments, including topics you've probably never much pondered. Do you have deeply held convictions about term lengths for emergency service district board members?
Detailed information about the amendments is available from the House Research Organization at http://www.hro.house.state.tx.us/focus/amend81.pdf and from the Texas Legislative Council at www.tlc.state.tx.us/pubsconamend/analyses09/analyses09.pdf.
Early voting ends Oct. 30. The election is Tuesday, Nov. 3.
Here are our recommendations:
Proposition 1: For. Allows cities and counties to sell bonds to pay for "buffer areas" or open spaces near military bases. This would stave off encroachment that could prevent base expansion. The money also could be used for roads and other improvements to assist military installations.
Proposition 2: Against. This one sounds good, but has drawbacks. The proposal bars residential appraisals from being set based on "highest and best use," which can lead to unreasonably high taxes for homes near commercial development. Is there something wrong with taxing property based on what it could fetch? "Highest and best use" can create inequities, but there is an appeals process already in place to deal with that.
Proposition 3: Against. This one is kind of a trick question and leaves out the most important piece of information. In the name of more equitable property appraisals statewide, this amendment would give state lawmakers the authority to set standards and practices for appraisals. Might be an OK idea. But the Legislature this year failed to enact accompanying legislation delineating exactly how it would do that. Let's get that done before we let lawmakers meddle in what's been a local prerogative.
Proposition 5: For. This one allows lawmakers to let adjoining appraisal districts share a single board for appraisal disputes. This could lead to increased efficiency, especially in sparsely populated areas that have problems finding qualified folks to serve on these boards.
Proposition 6: For. The proposal would help prevent an interruption in the bonding authority used by the Veterans Land Board to offer below-market financing to veterans for home and land purchases. Some forecasts show the current bonding authority could run out later this year.
Proposition 7: For. This one wipes out the ban on Texas State Guard members from holding another "civil office" (school boards, city councils, etc.).
Proposition 8: For. Authorizes use of state resources to help build and operate veterans hospitals in Texas. Lawmakers this year directed state agencies to work with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to establish a hospital in the Rio Grande Valley.
Proposition 9: For. Texas has an Open Beaches Act that guarantees public access to beaches. This proposal would put that law into the Constitution.
Proposition 10: For. Texas has 283 "emergency service districts," each run by five-member boards serving two-year terms. Only 39 boards have elected members. The rest are appointed. The Constitution says all Texas officeholders serve two-year terms unless specifically exempted. This proposal, along with legislation approved this year, would set four-year terms for ESD members.
Proposition 11: For. This one deals with eminent domain government's right to take private property. Always controversial, the topic grew more so after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing the taking of private property for private economic development projects.
Prop. 11 would ban that in Texas by specifically allowing governmental entities to take private property for public use and not for "economic development or enhancement of tax revenue purposes."
—The Austin American-Statesman