Dear Mr. Premack: I’ve started to receive some information about the election on November 8. There are ten proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot. What are the amendments and what will be their impact? Thank you. – H.S.
Early voting is now underway, and is open until November 4. The general election is on November 8, and there are indeed ten constitutional amendments on the ballot. Also, depending on which district in which you live, you may be voting on the SA River Authority Board, the Bexar Metropolitan Water district’s continuing existence, and some local school district bonds.
In Texas, the Constitution is amended vastly more often than the federal constitution is amended. This is because the Texas constitution goes into great detail on many topics (it is over 80,000 words, while the US constitution is under 5000 words). According to the University of Texas, only four other states have amended their constitutions more frequently than has Texas.
Proposition 1 poses whether you want the surviving spouse of a 100% or totally disabled veteran to receive a reduction in local property taxes. A veteran who is completely physically disabled is labeled as “100% disabled”. A veteran whose disability renders the veteran unable to work is labeled as “totally disabled.” Right now, both categories of veterans receive a property tax exemption. If approved, this amendment would extend the exemption to the surviving spouse, would apply to only the homestead, and would be granted only if the surviving spouse has not remarried.
Proposition 2 would allow the Texas Water Development Board to issue new bonds, not to exceed $6 billion. Proponents claim that without this extra borrowing authority, the state may be unable to provide matching funds for federal grants on water projects. Opponents say this blanket approval would remove the legislature’s oversight over this borrowing, which could go on indefinitely into the future as new bonds are issued to replace bonds that are retired.
Proposition 3 would allow the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to sell bonds, using the proceeds to fund student loans. Historically, demand for student loans increases as the student population increases. The voters approved increases in this program by amending the constitution seven times since 1965, and rejected an increase one time in 1991. Proponents cite the fact that these bonds are repaid by the students, not by the taxpayers. Opponents respond that if the economy further sours so that students default on their loans, the taxpayers are still liable to repay these bonds.
Proposition 4 would give authority to the legislature to vote on whether a county could issue bonds to fund redevelopment of an “unproductive, underdeveloped or blighted” area. The bonds would be repaid from property taxes raised from the redeveloped area. Proponents point out that the constitution already allows cities and towns to issue such bonds, and this amendment would expand the law to allow counties to issue such bonds as well. Opponents feel that economic development should not be funded by taxpayers, but by private investment.
Proposition 5 would give the legislature authority to allow cities and counties to enter into contracts with each other without some accounting requirements currently in place. Right now, a cooperative agreement between two cities (for instance) that lasts longer than one year is legally required to be treated as a debt, offset by a tax and a sinking fund to finance the obligation. This amendment would allow more cooperative efforts between government units without needing to treat them as debts. Ideally, it would save taxpayer funds by allowing shared services and facilities in adjoining counties and municipalities.
I’ll write more about the remaining propositions next week. In the meantime, if you want to read more details about all ten propositions, visit http://elections.bexar.org/PDF/amend82.pdf.
Paul Premack is a Certified Elder Law Attorney practicing estate planning and probate law in San Antonio.
Original Publication: San Antonio Express News, October 28, 2011