*This blog post is courtesy of Dallas Morning News*
On Nov. 5, Texas voters will have to decide whether to add 10 amendments to the state constitution.
Constitutional amendments require the support of the majority of voters and two-thirds of the Texas House and Senate. The Legislature approved them in May.
Here’s what those propositions, including a controversial ban on a state income tax, could mean for Texans.
Prohibiting a state income tax
The constitution allows the Legislature to impose a personal income tax only if voters approve it in a statewide referendum and if the new revenue goes to school property tax cuts and education programs. In 1993, voters approved this amendment pushed by then-Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock, a Democrat.
Proposition 4, authored by Republican Rep. Jeff Leach of Plano, would strike that amendment and add language that the Legislature “may not impose a tax on the net incomes of individuals.” The Legislature narrowly approved it in May.
If voters approve it, two-thirds of the Texas House and Senate would have to vote to repeal the amendment and call a statewide election to establish an income tax.
Leach says this change would make it “virtually impossible to pass a state income tax,” ensuring Texas remains attractive to residents and businesses.
Critics say the proposition eliminates a potential source of revenue for public education funding and property tax relief, which were priorities during the last legislative session.
“It’s placing hurdles on a future generation,” said Dick Lavine of the left-leaning Center for Public Policy Priorities. “We’re not even talking about the pros and cons of an income tax, we’re talking about giving future generations a choice.”
The Texas State Teachers Association added that the proposition would “remove from the state constitution a guarantee that any revenue raised by an income tax be dedicated to improving education funding.”
The proposition also faced some pushback in the Legislature. Dallas Sens. Royce West and Nathan Johnson tried to preserve a language that the income tax ban would apply to “natural persons” and not “individuals.” They cautioned that using “individual” could exempt corporations. Their effort failed, but the Legislature did amend the tax code to define an “individual” as a “natural person.”
Leach said that concern over the term individuals is a “made-up argument,” and that his amendment still leaves the choice of an income tax in the hands of Texans.
“We think that the people of Texas are the ultimate say in who they elect and how they vote in a constitutional amendment election,” he said. “I don’t view this in any way that the people in Texas have less power than they had before.”
Disaster relief initiatives
Proposition 3 would temporarily exempt property owners in a governor-declared disaster area from a portion of the taxes for the property’s appraised value. But the proposition does not guarantee an exemption for property affected by a disaster after the local tax rate has been set, the House Research Organization reports.
Proposition 8 would create a Flood Infrastructure Fund in the state treasury for the Texas Water Development Board to pay for drainage, flood mitigation or flood-control projects.
The fund, created after Hurricane Harvey, is intended to better prepare Texas for future disasters. But the House Research Organization notes that there are local, state and federal funds available for these projects and that some state funding for the fund is meant to be used only after a disaster takes place.
Parks and historical commission funding
Proposition 5 seeks to secure funding for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Texas Historical Commission from state sales taxes imposed on sporting goods.
The two agencies have reaped the revenue from these taxes since 1993, but the Legislature has allocated only a portion of the full revenue in recent years. The proposition would ensure the agencies automatically receive the full revenue unless two-thirds of the Legislature votes for another resolution.
Critics say it would limit the Legislature’s ability to prioritize state funding, according to the House Research Organization.
Cancer research funding
Proposition 6 would allow the Legislature to increase from $3 billion to $6 billion the amount of taxpayer-backed bonds the state issues for the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. The agency, established in 2007, would otherwise lose its ability to award grants that promote cancer prevention and research by 2022.
Critics say cancer research isn’t a necessary state priority, and lawmakers should work to make the agency self-sustainable during the next legislative session.
Public education funding
Proposition 7 would double the annual public education funding awarded to the Available School Fund. The General Land Office can currently distribute $300 million to the fund per year, which gives schools funding for each student and textbooks.
Proponents say this would allow schools to get more of the profits from state lands and State Board of Education investments, but critics say it could drain the fund more quickly and shortchange students in the long run.
Tax exemptions for precious metals
Proposition 9 would exempt precious metals from ad valorem taxes if they are held in a Texas depository. Under current law, Texans may be subject to personal ad valorem taxes from local governments if their precious metals produce income. The proposition would include all Texas depositories, including the first state-run depository expected to open in Leander early next year, and apply to the metals gold, silver, palladium, rhodium and platinum.
Supporters say this change will help make Texas’ repositories for precious metals more competitive with those in other states, but critics warn against creating more tax exemptions in the wake of property tax revisions.
Law enforcement animals
Proposition 10 would ensure that retiring law enforcement animals can go to their handlers or qualified caretakers. Law enforcement animals, such as dogs and horses, are considered public property, and the Texas Constitution generally prohibits the transfer of public property without payment.
The proposition would clarify confusion over the existing practice, though some law enforcement agencies already allow handlers to adopt the animals for no fee.
Improving access to water
Proposition 2 would allow the Texas Water Development Board to issue additional bonds to improve water access through the Economically Distressed Areas Program. The bonds, which would not be allowed to exceed $200 million, would fund water supply and sewer service projects in areas where the median household income falls below 75% of the state median income level.
Supporters say these bonds are necessary to help Texans without safe access to water. But opponents say they will raise state debt, so the funding should come from revenue the state allocates to agencies.
Electing municipal judges to multiple offices
Proposition 1 would allow voters to elect municipal judges to serve in multiple cities at the same time. Municipal judges, who issue warrants and rule on city violations, can be elected or appointed by city councils, depending on a city’s charter.
Only 5% of the estimated 1,300 municipal judges in Texas are elected, according to the nonpartisan House Research Organization, including ones in Denton and Corsicana. The other 95% who are appointed are already allowed to serve in more than one office.
Proponents of Proposition 1, which the Legislature passed unanimously, say it would allow smaller cities to elect judges from a larger pool of qualified candidates.
But the House Research Organization notes that the proposition could raise future questions about Texas’ “one person, one office” election rule and about whether municipal judges can adequately balance work for two municipalities.
For more information, head over to the Dallas Morning News site article HERE for updates.
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