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Early voting underway for state constitutional amendments

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Early voting is underway for the Nov. 8 state constitutional amendment election.

The Texas Legislature approved 10 proposals earlier this year to go on the ballot for inclusion as amendments to the Texas Constitution. The 10 amendments cover a wide variety of issues:

Proposition 1: Allowing surviving spouse of disabled veteran to receive homestead tax exemption.

The Texas Constitution requires that all real and tangible personal property be taxed in proportion to its value unless it is exempt. Proposition 1 would authorize the Legislature to allow the surviving spouse of a disabled veteran to receive a property tax exemption for a residence homestead if the disabled veteran qualified for the exemption when the veteran died. The exemption would be the same portion of the market value of the same property to which the disabled veteran’s exemption applied. A homestead would qualify if:

• the property was the residence homestead of the surviving spouse when the disabled veteran died;

• the property remained the residence homestead of the surviving spouse; and

• the surviving spouse had not remarried since the disabled veteran died.

Proposition 1 also would authorize the Legislature to allow the exemption to follow the surviving spouse to a new homestead if the surviving spouse had not remarried after the death of the disabled veteran. The exemption would be limited to the dollar amount of the exemption for the previous qualifying homestead as of the last year in which the surviving spouse had received the exemption.

Proposition 2: Renewing authority for Texas Water Development Board bonds.

The Texas Constitution generally prohibits the state from borrowing funds. However, there are exceptions, like Sec. 49-c, which gives the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) bonding authority to provide financial assistance to political subdivisions (municipalities, water supply districts, river authorities,a etc.).

Texas voters have amended this provision numerous times to increase the dollar amount the TWDB is authorized to issue in general obligation bonds, backed by the state’s full faith and credit, to finance water supply, water quality and flood control projects. The Development Fund also provides state matching funds for federal grants for the TWDB’s clean water and drinking water state revolving funds.

Proposition 2 would allow the TWDB to issue, in addition to the bonds authorized by other provisions of the Texas Constitution, general obligation bonds for the Texas Water Development Fund II (DFund II). The aggregate principal amount of the bonds that were outstanding at any time could not exceed $6 billion. The constitutional limitation that the TWDB not issue bonds exceeding the aggregate principal amount of previously authorized bonds would not apply to bonds authorized by this amendment. And limitations on the percentage of state participation in any single project would not apply to a project funded with the proceeds of bonds issued under this amendment.

If additional water supplies and infrastructure are not created, Texas businesses and workers could lose an estimated $115.7 billion in income, and the creation of 1.1 million new jobs is potentially jeopardized.

Based on information from political subdivisions across Texas, current estimates indicate that by the year 2060, Texas will need to invest about $231.2 billion in order to meet the state’s needs for new water supply, water and wastewater infrastructure construction and repair/rehabilitation, and flood control.

Proposition 3: Renewing state bond authority to finance low-interest student loans.

Texas Constitution authorizes the Hinson-Hazlewood College Student Loan Program (HH loan program) for loans to Texas students who attend public or private higher education institutions in Texas. The HH loan program uses state general obligation bonds to finance low-interest loans to students with insufficient resources to finance a college education. Texas voters have authorized a cumulative total of $1.86 billion in general obligation bonds for the student loan program over the years. According to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, about $275.5 million of unissued bond authorization remains. It is projected that the remaining authority will be exhausted by 2013.

Proposition 3 would authorize the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to sell general obligation bonds for the purpose of financing the HH loan program without additional voter approval, as long as the principal amount of outstanding bonds issued does not exceed the aggregate principal amount of bonds previously authorized under the constitution. Such ongoing bond authority—known as “evergreen” authority—would simplify the bond authorization process by avoiding repeated constitutional amendment elections each time the coordinating boards need to sell new bonds to finance the program.

Proposition 4: Allowing counties to participate in certain tax financing zones.

Under the current Texas Constitution, an incorporated city or town may issue bonds or notes to finance development of an unproductive, underdeveloped or blighted area and to pledge increases in property tax revenue in the area to repay the bonds.

Proposition 4 would add counties to the political entities authorized to pledge increased property tax revenue to repay bonds issued to redevelop property in an unproductive, underdeveloped or blighted area, which could include an area within a county.

Proposition 5: Allowing interlocal contracts by cities and counties without tax and sinking fund.

Cities and counties may not create debt unless a tax is levied that is sufficient to pay the interest on the debt and the debt is paired with a sinking fund of at least 2 percent of the principal. A sinking fund is an amount set aside to cover future installment payments on a debt obligation.

Proposition 5 would allow the Legislature to authorize cities and counties to enter into interlocal contracts with other cities or counties without meeting the tax assessment and sinking fund requirements. Proposition 5 would clarify that cities and counties may enter into contracts with each other for longer than one year without that contract automatically constituting a debt. This would give local governments the flexibility to consolidate more projects and services.

Proposition 6: Distribution from Permanent School Fund to Available School Fund.

The Permanent School Fund (PSF) is an endowment trust that holds investment returns from the corpus of the fund and the proceeds from state land and mineral rights dedicated to the support of public schools. The State Board of Education (SBOE) manages the investment of the PSF. If the fund’s investment performance permits, the SBOE makes distributions from the PSF to the Available School Fund (ASF), which provides state assistance to school districts. The ASF pays for instructional materials and classroom technology and provides funding to school districts on a per-student basis.

State land managed, sold or acquired by the School Land Board (SLB) is excluded from the calculation of the percentage of funds that should be distributed annually to the ASF for spending on public education. And, the Natural Resources Code authorizes the SLB to distribute school land investment funds directly to the ASF for spending by the public schools, but the attorney general has concluded that this provision (sec. 51.413) likely is unconstitutional. In the attorney general’s opinion, the law is inconsistent with constitutional provisions requiring land sale proceeds to be invested or used to acquire other land for the PSF (Atty. Gen. Opinion, GA-0617; April 9, 2008).

Therefore, Proposition 6 addresses two issues. F
irst, it would amend the Texas Constitution to include discretionary real estate investments when determining the PSF’s market value used to calculate the amount from the PSF to the ASF. Proposition 6 also would authorize the General Land Office to distribute to the ASF up to $300 million each year in revenue derived that year from PSF land or properties.

Proposition 7: Authorizing El Paso County districts to issue bonds for parks and recreational facilities.

The Texas Constitution allows the creation of conservation and reclamation districts. The Legislature cannot authorize a district to issue bonds or provide for indebtedness against a district unless the district voters first approve it.

Proposition 7 would add El Paso County to the list of counties specified in Art. 16, sec. 59(c-1) of the Texas Constitution, allowing the Legislature to authorize a conservation and reclamation district in the county to issue bonds and levy taxes in order to develop and finance certain parks and recreational facilities.

Proposition 8: Appraising open-space land for water stewardship.

The Texas Constitution currently allows for taxation of open-space land devoted to farm, ranch or wildlife management based on its productive capacity and allows the taxation of open-space land devoted to timber production based on its productive capacity.

Proposition 8 would add to the current “open-space valuations” by providing for taxation of open-space land devoted to water stewardship purposes based on its productive capacity. This would be in addition to the current provisions that already allow open-space valuation for agriculture, wildlife management and timber production.

To qualify for open-space valuation based on water stewardship, the landowner will have to implement certain conservation practices, similar to the current provisions for wildlife management.

Proposition 9: Allowing pardon by the governor after successful deferred adjudication.

Current constitutional provisions authorize the governor to grant reprieves, commutations of punishments and pardons after a criminal conviction. The governor may exercise this authority in all criminal cases except treason and impeachment, but only if the Board of Pardons and Paroles recommends it. However, this authority provided by the constitution does not apply to deferred adjudication (probation).

Proposition 9 would expand the governor’s authority to grant pardons, reprieves and commutations, upon recommendation of the Board of Pardons and Paroles, to cases when a person had successfully completed a term of “deferred adjudication.”

Proposition 10: Lengthening period before county officials must resign to run for other office.

Resign-to-run—Under the Texas Constitution, when certain elected officials file or announce their candidacy for another office in any election, and their current term of office exceeds one year, it constitutes an automatic resignation from their current office. This provision, known as the “resign-to-run” provision, applies to district clerks, county clerks, county judges, county court-at-law judges, county criminal court judges, county probate judges, county domestic relations court judges, county treasurers, county surveyors, county commissioners, justices of the peace, sheriffs, tax assessors and collectors, district attorneys, criminal district attorneys, county attorneys, public weighers and constables.

New filing deadline—U.S. citizens who live abroad are eligible to register and vote absentee in federal elections under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) of 1986. In 2009, Congress overhauled UOCAVA by enacting the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act, which requires all states to send absentee ballots to military and overseas citizens at least 45 days before an election. This change addressed concerns that those voters did not have sufficient time to vote. Senate Bill 100 by Van de Putte, enacted by the 2011 Legislature, implements the federal MOVE Act by amending the state’s primary election calendar. The new law moved the filing deadline for a place on the general primary election ballot from Jan. 2 to the second Monday in December of the odd-numbered year before the primary.

The movement of these candidate filing dates has created a conflict with the “resign-to-run” provision under the constitution. Therefore, Proposition 10 would amend the Texas Constitution to extend the current requirement to resign from one year to one year and 30 days.

Flower Mound voters will also participate in a Dedicated Sales Tax Reauthorization Election, that if approved, would extend the Street Maintenance sales tax for four years and the Crime and Fire Districts sales taxes for 10 years.

For more information about the Flower Mound Dedicated Sales Tax Reauthorization Election, visit www.flower-mound.com/dste2011.

Early voting runs from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through Nov. 2 and from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Nov. 3 and Nov. 4. Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 8, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Early voting will be by electronic machines only. Paper ballots will be available on Election Day.

Before Election day, Denton County residents can vote at any of 13 locations, including the Highland Village Municipal Complex, Flower Mound Police/Municipal Court Building and Justin Municipal Building.

On Election Day, voters can only cast their ballots at the location at which their precinct is assigned. Click here to determine your precinct.

Some of the information in this article was provided by the Texas Farm Bureau.

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