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Texans could change their state constitution with these 14 propositions

Julia Reihs
/
KUT

Texans won’t be voting for president, senator or governor on Election Day, but this year’s ballot is still important.

Voters across Texas will weigh in on 14 propositions that could ultimately change the Texas Constitution.

Voting on constitutional amendments is the closest the Texas public can get to voting directly on policy changes in the state, said Brandon Rottinghaus, political science professor at the University of Houston.

“Normally we vote indirectly. We vote for representatives who then go to Austin to make these laws,” he said. “This is one of the few times where Texans can [vote] directly on policy changes at the state level.”

Early voting starts Monday and Election Day is Nov. 7.

Here’s a look at how the 14 proposed amendments will appear on the ballot and what they mean.

Proposition 1: “The constitutional amendment protecting the right to engage in farming, ranching, timber production, horticulture, and wildlife management.”

Prop 1 would prevent municipal governments from regulating land use policies in areas with farming, ranching, timber production, horticulture and wildlife management.

“Basically, it is a reaction to the growth of big cities in Texas and a desire to have a limited encroachment on lands that are used for farming or ranching,” Rottinghaus said.

This would not affect the state’s ability to acquire property for public use, including the development of natural resources under the Texas Constitution.

Supporters like the Texas Farm Bureau said this proposition will protect farmers and ranchers from losing their agricultural land to development. But opponents like the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance said it will give agricultural operations a “blank check to be bad neighbors.”

  • Support: Right 2 Farm Texas, Texas Commissioner of Agriculture Sid Miller, Texas Farm Bureau and others
  • Oppose: Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance, Humane Society

Proposition 2: “The constitutional amendment authorizing a local option exemption from ad valorem taxation by a county or municipality of all or part of the appraised value of real property used to operate a child-care facility.”

This amendment would exempt half the value of a child care facility’s property from taxes.

In an analysis of the proposition, state Sen. Royce West said Texas child care centers were closing due to employees leaving for businesses able to pay higher wages.

Brent Boyea, political science professor at the University of Texas at Arlington, said Texas has some of the highest property tax rates in the country. This proposition could help alleviate some of that burden, he said.

“It has potential to be a drain on the economy for the state if there aren’t enough child care facilities,” he said. “So, this is a way to help out with that.”

  • Support: State Sen. Royce West, Methodist Healthcare Ministries, Texas Restaurant Association
  • Opposite: No outspoken opposition

Proposition 3: “The constitutional amendment prohibiting the imposition of an individual wealth or net worth tax, including a tax on the difference between the assets and liabilities of an individual or family.”

This will prohibit a state wealth or net worth tax on an individual or family.

Proposition 3 aligns with years of tax limitations Republicans have passed over the years, Rottinghaus said.

“Even if Republicans don’t continue to win elections in the ways they have been, this would allow them to cement their philosophy into state government for a very long time,” he said. “If lawmakers want to have a wealth tax in the future, they have to ask voters for permission. That’s a tough political lift, even if the state becomes very blue."

Texas is one of nine states without an income tax.

In 2019, voters approved a proposition requiring two-thirds support in both legislative chambers along with a statewide vote before any income tax resolution is established in Texas.

  • Support: State Rep. Cole Hefner, other Republicans
  • Oppose: Nonprofit group Every Texan, Texas American Federation of Teachers

Proposition 4: “The constitutional amendment to authorize the legislature to establish a temporary limit on the maximum appraised value of real property other than a residence homestead for ad valorem tax purposes; to increase the amount of the exemption from ad valorem taxation by a school district applicable to residence homesteads from $40,000 to $100,000; to adjust the amount of the limitation on school district ad valorem taxes imposed on the residence homesteads of the elderly or disabled to reflect increases in certain exemption amounts; to except certain appropriations to pay for ad valorem tax relief from the constitutional limitation on the rate of growth of appropriations; and to authorize the legislature to provide for a four-year term of office for a member of the board of directors of certain appraisal districts.”

Proposition 4 is the longest on the ballot and has four parts to it.

First, it would raise the homestead exemption for school district taxes from $40,000 to $100,000. Texans can apply for a homestead exemption on their primary residence.

With Prop 4, this would mean anyone with a homestead exemption would pay property taxes as if their home was valued at $100,000 less than what it is.

This proposition would also temporarily allow the legislature to limit the value of a property that is not a residence homestead, like a secondary house, Boyea said.

“People across the state have complained over the last several years about the level of property taxation,” Boyea said. “So [Proposition 4] is the legislature trying to respond to concerns that people have about the amount of taxation that they have at the local level.”

The proposed amendment would also put a temporary limit on the amount of school district taxes people 65 and older, and disabled residents can be exempt from with their residence homestead.

For the 2023 tax year, this would set the exemption limit to $15,000 multiplied by the 2022 tax rate. This additional exemption for ages 65 and older, and disabled residents is in addition to the residence homestead exemption.

Prop 4 would also limit terms for appraisal board members to four years for those serving in a county with a population of at least 75,000 people.

Proposition 5: “The constitutional amendment relating to the Texas University Fund, which provides funding to certain institutions of higher education to achieve national prominence as major research universities and drive the state economy."

This amendment focuses on building up higher education in the state.

The money — $3.9 billion — would go to any state university entitled for funding from the Texas University Fund. This would include the University of North Texas, Texas Tech University, the University of Houston and Texas State University.

The Texas A&M and University of Texas systems would not be eligible because they already receive money from the Permanent University Fund.

“It’s a lot of money that really has a chance to build up higher ed in the state, and what’s that about? That’s about jobs,” Boyea said. “That’s about trying to build up the education system for Texas so that it rivals kind of the coastal universities, whether we’re talking about California or another state.”

The amount of money used would not exceed $100 million for the state fiscal year beginning Sept. 1, 2023. This amount could be adjusted by a rate of up to 2% in future state fiscal years.

  • Support: North Texas Commission, Greater Houston Partnership, Texas Association of Business and other organizations
  • Oppose: No outspoken opposition

Proposition 6: “The constitutional amendment creating the Texas water fund to assist in financing water projects in this state.”

If passed, this amendment would set up the Texas Water Fund to finance water projects in the state.

The Texas Water Fund would have special funds outside of the general revenue fund and administered by the Texas Water Development Board.

“The state’s growing, the population is growing,” Boyea said. “There’s always going to be issues in a dry, arid state like Texas that there could be concerns about the lack of water. So, it’s the state being proactive in that way to try and make sure that there's plenty of water for a growing and large population.”

  • Support: ExxonMobil, Occidental Petroleum, Texas Rural Water Association, Texas Water Supply Partners, and other organizations
  • Oppose: No outspoken opposition

Proposition 7: “The constitutional amendment providing for the creation of the Texas energy fund to support the construction, maintenance, modernization, and operation of electric generating facilities.”

Prop 7 would provide low-interest loans for the construction or upgrade of gas-fueled power plants.

“The context is, of course, the energy grid is struggling, and the legislature wants to invest more money in gas fuel power,” Rottinghaus said. “This would effectively increase the probability that an organization would construct or upgrade their gas fuel plants.”

In 2021, Gov. Greg Abbott and other state leaders criticized renewable energy for being insufficient to keep the power grid from failing during the winter storm — although natural gas and coal generators were included in the energy sources unable to produce power.

This year, Abbott vowed to exclude renewable energy from economic incentive programs.

Opponents of Prop 7, like the Sierra Club’s Lone Star Chapter, say it would create a taxpayer-backed incentive for fracked gas.

“Our grid challenges in Texas are not the fault of solar and wind,” the Lone Star Chapter said. “Our electricity demand is being fueled in large part by extreme temperatures driven by climate change – a slew of new gas plants will only make this problem worse.”

The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports wind and solar generating capacity in Texas could double by 2035. However, without upgrades to the state's transmission system, renewable energy generation will be curtailed.

  • Support: Corporations like ConocoPhillips Alaska and Koch Companies; Texas Oil and Gas Association, Texas Pipeline Association and others
  • Oppose: Environment Texas, Texas Advanced Energy Business Alliance, Texas Consumer Association and others

Proposition 8: “The constitutional amendment creating the broadband infrastructure fund to expand high-speed broadband access and assist in the financing of connectivity projects.”

Similar to Proposition 6 — which aims to address a growing Texas population — Prop 8 would expand broadband internet access across the state.

If passed, it would allocate special funds — administered by the Texas comptroller — separate from the general fund to expand high-speed broadband access.

About 7 million Texans do not have broadband access, with rural and underserved communities most in need.

Prop 6 would establish the broadband infrastructure fund to establish and expand access to broadband and telecommunications services statewide. This fund would expire on Sept. 1, 2035, unless the legislature extends it.

  • Support: Texas Broadband Now, Texas Farm Bureau, Texas Cable Association, and more organizations
  • Oppose: Texas for Liberty

Proposition 9: “The constitutional amendment authorizing the 88th Legislature to provide a cost-of-living adjustment to certain annuitants of the Teacher Retirement System of Texas.”

This would allow for a cost-of-living adjustment for some retired teachers.

“The retired teacher fund is limited in terms of how much money it has,” Rottinghaus said. “The teachers who are retired haven’t seen a raise in a good while, almost 20 years, so this allows the legislature to transfer money from the general fund to the retired teacher fund.”

Prop 9 involves a specific fund described in the state constitution that requires voter approval before it is officially transferred.

  • Support: Texas AFL-CIO, Texas Association of School Administrators, Texas Retired Teachers Association and others
  • Oppose: No outspoken opposition

Proposition 10: “The constitutional amendment to authorize the legislature to exempt from ad valorem taxation equipment or inventory held by a manufacturer of medical or biomedical products to protect the Texas healthcare network and strengthen our medical supply chain.”

This would exempt personal property held by a medical or biomedical manufacturer from taxes.

Supporters like the Texas Healthcare and Bioscience Institute say it will make Texas a more competitive location for manufacturers and attract new employers to the state.

But it would also mean school districts and municipalities would lose out on taxation from medical and biomedical goods, Boyea said.

“There are school districts, municipalities that can tax this type of equipment, and the state’s putting a limit on that,” he said.

  • Support: Texas Medical Center, Texas Healthcare and Bioscience Institute and other organizations
  • Oppose: No outspoken opposition

Proposition 11: “The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to permit conservation and reclamation districts in El Paso County to issue bonds supported by ad valorem taxes to fund the development and maintenance of parks and recreational facilities.”

This proposition would allow the use of property tax funds to develop and maintain parks and recreational facilities in El Paso.

The Texas Constitution allows conservation and reclamation districts in certain counties to issue bonds to develop and maintain parks and recreational facilities but does not currently provide this authority to El Paso County.

Proposition 11 is on the ballot because the state constitution has to be amended any time there is a change in funding.

“In Texas [municipal governments] have to get voter permission because they’re dealing with bonds and they’re supported by property taxes, and so that’s why it has to be triggered to be a constitutional amendment,” Rottinghaus said.

  • Support: State Rep. Joseph Moody, El Paso Water
  • Opposition: No outspoken opposition

Proposition 12: “The constitutional amendment providing for the abolition of the office of county treasurer in Galveston County.”

Proposition 12 is one of the outliers out of all the amendments because it focused only on Galveston County.

If passed, it would abolish the Galveston County treasurer position.

While the proposition will appear on everyone’s ballot, Boyea said it will only pass if approved by the majority of Galveston County voters.

Despite its potential to eliminate the position, current Galveston County Treasurer Hank Dugie is among the list of supporters for this proposition.

During the 2022 election, Dugie ran on the promise that he would eliminate the country treasurer position and said it was “not a needed position anymore.”

Dugie said the $500,000 used for the position annually could go back to the taxpayers in the form of roads or other necessities.

But Bill Sargent, former Galveston County chief deputy clerk for elections, said removing the position of county treasurer also removes an important check and balance system.

The county treasurer is an elected position that does not report to the county commissioners.

“I am not concerned about any of the current commissioners in Galveston County. In fact, I am friends of several of them. They are good people who can be trusted,” Sargent said in a comment submitted to the Committee on County Affairs. “However, what happens years from now if this is not the case?”

  • Support: Galveston County Treasurer Hank Dugie, Galveston County Director of Government Relations Zach Davidson, Dickinson City Councilmember Jessie Brantley
  • Opposition: Grayson County Treasurer Gayla Hawkins, County Treasurers Association of Texas, Justices of the Peace and Constables Association of Texas

Proposition 13: “The constitutional amendment to increase the mandatory age of retirement for state justices and judges.”

This amendment would increase the mandatory age of retirement for state justices and judges by four years, from 75 to 79.

“We can connect this to a variety of things, but probably longevity and people’s income are affected by this," Boyea said. "And so if a judge wants to serve to almost the age of 80, they now have the opportunity to if it’s passed in November."

  • Support: Texas Association of Retired, Senior, and Former Judges, Inc; Texas Trial Lawyers Association, Statutory Probate Judges of Texas and other organizations
  • Opposition: No outspoken opposition

Proposition 14: “The constitutional amendment providing for the creation of the centennial parks conservation fund to be used for the creation and improvement of state parks.”

If passed by voters, this will create a Centennial Parks Conservation Fund outside of the state treasury to build new state parks and fund improvements to existing ones.

“This is the 100-year anniversary of the Texas State Park [Board]," Boyea said, "so it’s addressing the idea of giving state citizens greater access to parks throughout the state.”

  • Support: Environment Texas, Texans for State Parks, Texas Travel Alliance and more organizations
  • Oppose: No outspoken opposition

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Megan Cardona