Analysis of November 2019 Election Constitutional Amendments

The Texas Constitutional Amendment Election will be held on Tuesday, November 5, 2019. Early voting begins on October 21, 2019.

Dallas County will be introducing its new voting equipment with this election. All voters are urged to turn out for this election to get acquainted with the new voting machines. Aside from the amendments, there is one contested race in Dallas County to fill the unexpired term in State House District 100.

A very short analysis of the ten proposed amendments:

Amendment One

Allowing municipal judges to hold office in more than one municipality

Discussion: Municipal judges are appointed in municipalities that have chosen the appointment process. Many municipalities have chosen to elect their municipal judges. Under current law, an elected municipal judge may only serve as a judge for that municipality. Many small municipalities that rely on elected judges have trouble finding candidates. Appointed judges are allowed to serve in multiple jurisdictions. This amendment would allow elected municipal judges to serve in multiple jurisdictions.

Arguments in support: Municipal judges handle local matters, including city ordinance violations and some misdemeanor offenses. Appointed municipal judges are permitted to serve in several small cities simultaneously, which expands the pool of qualified judges. This amendment would allow the same treatment for elected municipal judges.

Arguments in opposition: It has been a long-standing principal that prohibits an elected official from holding more than one paid public office. This would create an exception to this rule. Further, there might be some issue that a judge working in more than one court would be able to give adequate attention to each court.

Amendment Two

Allowing the Texas Water Development Board to issue more water development project bonds.

Discussion: Economically distressed areas of Texas often require financial assistance to develop water and wastewater reclamation facilities. The Texas Water Development Board is authorized to sell bonds to help fund these projects. This amendment would permit the sale of an additional $200 million in bonds to fund water development and water reclamation programs in economically distressed areas of Texas.

Arguments in support: Water infrastructure programs are essential. The methods of paying for it are either using general revenue funds, which can be less reliable and put a strain on those revenues, or paid for through bonds whose sole purpose is to fund these projects without competing for dollars from the general fund, establishing a more reliable funding system.

Arguments in opposition: Funding should be from general revenue sources, subject to regular budgeting, where funds can be reallocated to other programs considered more pressing.

Amendment Three

Allowing temporary property tax exemptions after a Disaster.

Discussion: In the event of a governor-declared disaster area, this amendment would permit the legislature to grant a temporary exemption of a portion of the assessed property taxes.

Arguments in support: In the event of a disaster, this amendment would create an easy to implement temporary property tax relief program that would be required.

Arguments in opposition: When a disaster strikes a region, the taxing authority should have the option of implementing this temporary tax relief. After a disaster strikes, local authorities must still fund essential services in addition to the disaster related costs. The local taxing authority should be free to make informed decisions based upon its unique circumstances rather than have a tax revenue cut mandated on them.

Amendment Four

Prohibiting a State Individual Income Tax

Discussion: The Texas Constitution currently contains a provision that requires the approval of a majority of voters to create an individual income tax. It further states that two-thirds of any revenue raised by such a tax would be allocated to fund public education. This amendment would prohibit an individual income tax under any circumstances.

Arguments in Support: This would maintain Texas as a business friendly, low tax economic state.

Arguments in Opposition. More than 75% of US states rely on some form of income tax, together with other revenue sources. Texas relies almost exclusively on sales tax and property tax to fund government. These two taxes are disproportionately harsh on economically disadvantaged individuals, who would pay a larger percentage of their total income in taxes compared to wealthier individuals. Past experience has shown that our state’s reliance on sales and property taxes is inadequate during times of economic recession. Prohibiting a state income tax would eliminate a potential source of revenue during economic recession. The bar against imposing an income tax is already high, requiring taxpayer approval. This amendment would make it impossible to have the option of such a source of revenue, even during economic emergencies.

Amendment Five

Dedicating Sporting Goods Sales Tax Revenue to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and Texas Historical Commission

Discussion: This amendment would divert sales tax income for the sale of sporting goods from the general fund for exclusive use of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Texas Historical Commission.

Arguments in Support: This amendment would result in the allocation of a funds to offset some $840 million in necessary maintenance and repairs to state parks and state controlled historical properties.

Arguments in Opposition: This amendment would create a constitutionally mandated dedicated account for these specific uses, taking away the ability of the legislature to allocate these funds to other projects.

Amendment Six

Increasing the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas bond authority from $3 billion to $6 billion.

Discussion: in 2007, the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas was created by the Texas legislature, and was authorized to issue $3 billion in general obligation bonds. As of February, 2019, CPRIT has awarded $2.2 billion to about 100 institutions.

Arguments in Support: These funds would represent an investment in the state economy. Further, they would have a multiplier effect creating new jobs and new economic activity.

Arguments in Opposition: The use of these funds in the past has been murky at best. Allegations of misuse of funds and distributions to political donors has left a cloud over this institution, which have not been thoroughly investigated.

Amendment Seven

Allowing Increased /distributions to Available School Fund

Discussion: A portion of the state proceeds from state land and mineral rights is allocated to the Permanent School Fund, managed by the State Board of Education and the General Land Office. These funds are invested in a variety of portfolios. This amendment would allow up to $660 million from each of the managing institutions to be distributed to the Available School Fund.

Arguments in Support: This proposal would increase funding for public schools without withdrawing from the general fund.

Arguments in Opposition: The amendment offers no mechanism to ensure the distribution of additional funds would actually improve education outcomes.

Amendment Eight

Creating the Flood Infrastructure Fund

Discussion: This amendment would create the Flood Infrastructure Fund, whose revenue would not be subject to specific appropriations made by the legislature. These funds would be for financing drainage, flood mitigation, or flood control projects.

Arguments in Support: The fund would assist local government by providing grants and low-cost loans to assist in basic flood project planning and flood mitigation projects.

Arguments in Opposition: There is no need to add another bureaucracy when there currently exist federal, state and local funds to support this cause.

Amendment Nine

Exempting Precious Metals held in Texas Depositories from Property Taxes.

Discussion: Current law exempts from property tax any property held by individuals unless it is used for production of income. This amendment would allow an exemption for the ownership of precious metals not held for production of income from the property tax.

Arguments in Support:  Many states already have this property tax exemption. In Texas, local taxing authorities have differing policies on appraising and applying property taxes on precious metals not held for the production of income. This amendment would make the precious metals exemption uniform across all taxing authorities.

Arguments in Opposition: The state should not continue to create exemptions on property taxes without overhauling the entire system. Further, determining whether the precious metals are not for the purpose of income production will be highly speculative.

Amendment Ten

Allowing Retired Law Enforcement Animal Transfers Without Fee.

Discussion: Law enforcement agencies employ a large number of animals, particularly dogs and horses, for a variety of law enforcement duties. Eventually, these animals will be retired from active service. Considering the bond that develops between these animals and their handlers, the animals are often transferred to the handlers upon retirement. State law requires that any government property, including such animals, have a property value, and such property cannot be transferred without compensation to the government. This amendment would exempt the handlers of these animals from being required to pay any fee or fair market value for these animals if they are retired from active service to their handlers.

Arguments in Support: Since most jurisdictions allow the transfer of these retired service animals to their handlers accept a nominal fee, which raises no significant income to the state, and in consideration of the humane treatment of these animals, the need for any such transfer fee is unnecessary.

Arguments in Opposition: The typical fee for transfer is nominal. There is no need to add yet another amendment to the constitution for such a purpose.