Ten amendments to the Texas Constitution will be up for ratification by voters statewide on Nov. 5.
Since its initial adoption in 1876, the Texas Constitution has seen 498 amendments approved by voters, making it one of the longest state constitutions in the country.
Proposed amendments must be adopted by a two-thirds vote of each branch of the legislature; i.e., an affirmative vote by 100 of the 150 Texas House members and 21 of the 31 Texas Senate members is required before the measures can be put before the voters.
Constitutional amendments take effect when approved by a simple majority of voters statewide. These elections take place in odd-numbered years.
Early voting in Lampasas County is Oct. 21-Nov. 1 at the elections administrator office, 407 S. Pecan St. in Lampasas.
A summary of the first five amendments follows, along with background information compiled from reports by the Texas Legislative Council and House Research Organization.
A story in an upcoming edition of the Dispatch Record will summarize propositions 6-10.
“The constitutional amendment permitting a person to hold more than one office as a municipal judge at the same time.”
Background: The Texas Constitution generally prohibits a person from holding more than one elected public office at the same time. There are certain exceptions to allow someone to hold more than one appointed office.
Government Code Sec. 574.001 allows a person to hold the office of municipal judge for more than one municipality at the same time if each is an appointed post. The proposed constitutional amendment would allow a person to serve as municipal judge in more than one jurisdiction at the same time, regardless of whether the position is elected or appointed.
Supporters say: Many small and rural cities have trouble finding qualified candidates for municipal court judge. The amendment would allow judges – whether elected or appointed – to serve more than one court, giving these municipalities an opportunity to have the best judge possible.
Judicial resources could be used more efficiently, as many small or rural cities do not need a fulltime judge and might hold municipal court only occasionally.
The Constitution already provides for justices of the peace to serve more than one position, so this amendment would allow elected municipal court judges the same privilege.
Opponents say: The proposition would create another exception to Texas’ longstanding constitutional prohibition against certain elected officials from holding more than one public office.
It is possible that judges working in more than one court would be unable to give adequate focus to the needs of each municipality.
“The constitutional amendment providing for the issuance of additional general obligation bonds by the Texas Water Development Board in an amount not to exceed $200 million to provide financial assistance for the development of certain projects in economically distressed areas.”
Background: The Water Code established the Economically Distressed Areas Program to provide financial assistance for water and wastewater projects in areas where the median household income is below 75% of the state’s median income. The program is funded by proceeds from bonds sold by the Texas Water Development Board.
Supporters say: This would provide essential financing for expensive infrastructure projects in economically distressed areas of the state. Financing through bonds would allow greater and more reliable funding over a longer period of time.
In certain parts of the state, a lack of adequate sewer services has led to raw sewage runoff and public health problems. The EDAP is a key tool to ensure that all Texans have basic water and sewer services.
Opponents say: This amendment would increase the state’s bonded indebtedness, which raises expenses for taxpayers.
Funding for the Economically Distressed Areas Program should come from general revenue during the regular budgeting process for state agencies, instead of through issuing more bonds.
The state shouldn’t constitutionally dedicate funds to specific programs.
“The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to provide for a temporary exemption from ad valorem taxation of a portion of the appraised value of certain property damaged by a disaster.”
Background: The Tax Code allows the reappraisal of property damaged in a natural disaster, if an appraisal district so chooses. This amendment would allow a temporary property tax exemption after the governor issues a disaster declaration for a county.
Supporters say: Individuals are entitled to a temporary tax exemption for properties damaged by a natural disaster. Under current law, a taxing unit is not required to perform a reappraisal after a disaster. Proposition 3 would be a better means to provide relief to those taxpayers.
Opponents say: Amending the Texas Constitution to allow a tax exemption for damaged property is unnecessary, as the existing method of reappraisal is sufficient.
When a city or county experiences a disaster, it must continue to provide essential services. By allowing property owners a tax exemption, it could prevent local governments from having enough resources to fund their budgets.
“The constitutional amendment prohibiting the imposition of an individual income tax, including a tax on an individual’s share of partnership and unincorporated association income.”
Background: The Texas Constitution allows the legislature to impose an income tax on individuals if approved by a majority of registered voters in a statewide referendum.
Proposition 4 would prohibit a personal income tax, including a tax on individuals’ shares of partnerships or unincorporated business income.
Supporters say: While many believe the Constitution already prohibits a state personal income tax, it actually only imposes certain restrictions, such as voter approval. This amendment offers a clear prohibition of such a tax in Texas.
The absence of a personal income tax is what draws many to Texas and is a contributing factor to the state’s economic success.
Opponents say: A constitutional prohibition of a personal income tax unnecessarily blocks a future revenue option for the state.
The existing restriction that requires voter approval before imposition of a state income tax on individuals is an adequate safeguard for taxpayers.
“The constitutional amendment dedicating the revenue received from the existing state sales and use taxes that are imposed on sporting goods to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Texas Historical Commission to protect Texas’ natural areas, water quality, and history by acquiring, managing, and improving state and local parks and historic sites while not increasing the rate of the state sales and use taxes.”
Background: In 1993, the legislature allocated the revenue generated by sales taxes on sporting goods to the TPWD. In 2007, it required 94% of the revenue to be credited to TPWD and 6% to the THC. The legislature, however, often has diverted a significant portion of this tax and used it for other budgetary purposes.
The amendment would automatically appropriate all sales tax revenue from sporting goods to the Parks and Wildlife Department and Texas Historical Commission with a 93%/7% split. In addition, these monies are prohibited from being used to certify the biennial state budget.
Supporters say: The amendment will help ensure that state parks in Texas have the resources they need to fund maintenance projects, ensure visitor safety and expand to meet the needs of a growing population.
Ensuring the Historical Commission continues to receive funding will enable it to properly manage and maintain state historical sites.
Currently, the funding appropriated by the legislature to these agencies often is substantially less than the total revenue derived from the tax. Allowing the sales tax to go automatically to these entities will ensure there is sustained, predictable revenue for the state park system and historic sites.
Opponents say: Automatic appropriation of the sporting goods tax revenue to TPWD and the Texas Historical Commission deprives the legislature of the ability to use a portion of that money for other important purposes or to respond to an emergency.
Amending the Constitution is unnecessary. The Texas Legislature funds state agencies and programs at appropriate levels through its biennial budget process. There is no need to treat TPWD and THC differently from other state agencies.