Photo illustration by Todd Wiseman / Texas Tribune
On Nov. 3, Texas voters will consider whether to add another seven amendments to the hundreds already in the state constitution.
The topics of the proposed amendments range from increasing property tax exemptions to repealing a requirement that state officials must live in Austin to protecting the right to hunt and fish. Early voting for the statewide measures starts Monday and ends Oct. 30.
Because of the constitution’s rigid 1876 form that restricts state government authority, the Texas Legislature regularly proposes new amendments to the constitution. Lawmakers added the proposed measures to this year’s ballot during the legislative session that ended June 1. Over the years, Texas voters have approved 484 of 666 proposed amendments to the 139-year-old constitution.
Here’s what each proposition would do.
Property tax reduction
This measure would increase property tax exemptions for homeowners from $15,000 to $25,000. Homeowners would be expected to save an average of $126 a year on property tax bills.
Supporters of this amendment say it would give much-needed tax relief to Texans, especially those being priced out of homes due to rising property values. Opponents say the measure wouldn’t help homeowners enough and leaves out renters. Critics also argue that the state is shifting spending rather than truly cutting taxes. The state has committed to covering the loss of this tax revenue to school districts — an estimated cost of $600 million annually.
The amendment would also prohibit state officials from collecting taxes on real estate title transfers.
Disabled veteran tax exemptions count for spouses
In 2011, Texas voters passed a constitutional amendment extending 100-percent property tax exemptions to surviving spouses of disabled veterans who have not remarried, but it did not include spouses of disabled veterans who died before Jan. 1, 2010. This amendment would expand current law to make those spouses eligible for the tax exemptions, as long as they have not remarried.
Repeals capital living requirement for statewide officials
If passed, the measure would allow some statewide elected officials to live outside the state capital. The constitution currently mandates that statewide officials including the comptroller, land commissioner, agriculture commissioner and attorney general live in Austin. That would no longer be the case under the proposed amendment, which does not address the governor or lieutenant governor; they are required to live in Austin.
Supporters say the requirement is outdated because of advances in transportation and technology. They also argue living in Austin is a cost that could deter Texans and their families from seeking these positions. Most other states do not have such a requirement.
Opponents to the amendment are concerned that officials might be unable to perform their duties if they don’t live in Austin and that the state may have to pay more to reimburse them for traveling expenses. Critics also worry that officials could choose to keep a different residence because they’re seeking a more favorable county court.
Professional sports teams’ charitable foundations can have more raffles
Professional sports teams’ charitable foundations would be able to hold more charitable raffles and 50/50 raffles, in which half the proceeds go to a charity and half can be used for prizes, including cash for a winner. Under current law, cash prizes cannot be awarded and raffles are limited to two times a year. Any unauthorized raffle is considered gambling, which is highly regulated in the state.
Small counties can perform private road maintenance
The proposed amendment would raise the population limit — to 7,500 people, from 5,000 — for counties where the government can perform road construction. Supporters of the bill say this would help growing rural communities and ensure safety. Others say county construction on private roads should include all counties, as long as private homeowners agree to pay the county.
Guarantees Texans the right to hunt and fish
The proposed amendment would give Texans the explicit right to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife. Texans can already hunt and fish, but this amendment is a preventive measure from any possible legislative action that could limit the right. Supporters are worried about possible pressure from animal rights or environmental groups.
The amendment says hunting and fishing is the preferred way for Texans to maintain and conserve wildlife. Critics say that could cause confusion about endangered, threatened or non-game species, some of which are protected by federal and state laws.
Dedicates more state revenue to the State Highway Fund
With this proposed amendment, the state would dedicate some taxes collected on car sales for the State Highway Fund. That fund is used to maintain and construct public roadways and bridges in the state and decrease transportation-related bond debt.
Specifically, if the state sales and use tax revenue reaches $28 billion, the state comptroller would be directed to use additional money, up to $2.5 billion, for the highway fund. Also, the comptroller could use 35 percent of tax revenue from state motor vehicle sales, use and rental tax revenue that exceeds $5 billion for the same fund.
The amendment would limit the time for money being taken from the state’s sales and use tax revenue to 10 years. It would also limit the deposit of state sales and use tax revenue to 15 years unless extended by the Legislature. The Legislature would be able to reduce the amount of the taxes used with a vote from two-thirds of both chambers.
Opponents say funneling funds directly to Texas roads would take money away from other expenses in the state budget, such as education. They argue legislators should determine how much money should be spent on transportation each session. Supporters say that this move would decrease Texas’ debt and ensure a consistent source of funds for transportation needs.
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