Constitutional elections: Ballot propositions and what they mean

Tabitha Fleming
Staff Writer

With early voting already underway on a number of state propositions, a complete review of the ballot items is a necessary piece of research for anyone seeking to make an informed decision. Though laws, procedure, taxes, and legal jargon can be hard to navigate, locals have the civic duty to make their voices heard on issues, or else complacently live with the consequences of inaction. A review of the current propositions follows:

Proposition 1
The text of the amendment reads, “The constitutional amendment increasing the amount of the residence homestead exemption from ad valorem taxation for public school purposes from $15,000 to $25,000, providing for a reduction of the limitation on the total amount of ad valorem taxes that may be imposed for those purposes on the homestead of an elderly or disabled person to reflect the increased exemption amount, authorizing the legislature to prohibit a political subdivision that has adopted an optional residence homestead exemption from ad valorem taxation from reducing the amount of or repealing the exemption, and prohibiting the enactment of a law that imposes a transfer tax on a transaction that conveys fee simple title to real property.”
What this means, is that the public school homestead exemption would increase from $15,000 to $25,000 and furthermore, the amendment would stop local governments from decreasing their homestead exemptions and prevent the state legislature from taxing someone for transferring a home's title to another person or entity.
Pros: Arguments in favor of Proposition 1 highlight the fact that residential property taxes are growing faster than other tax rates in the state, which is seen as a factor which discourages home ownership and may be pricing people out of homes they already own. With housing demands on the rise, an increase in the homestead exemption and prohibiting the state from transferring taxes is likely to encourage property ownership.
Cons: The arguments against Proposition 1 include the minor homeowner property tax reduction of only $126/year which some homeowners might not even realize because of increased property values. Furthermore renters wouldn't receive any benefit.

Proposition 2
This proposition reads, “The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to provide for an exemption from ad valorem taxation of all or part of the market value of the residence homestead of the surviving spouse of a 100 percent or totally disabled veteran who died before the law authorizing a residence homestead exemption for such a veteran took effect.”
In plain English, this offers spouses of veterans who have passed away (as long as they haven't remarried) or totally disabled veterans a homestead exemption for the entire value of their home.
Pros: The upside of the proposition is that the current law already extends this benefit to widows and widowers, but only if the veteran died after 2010. The argument in favor of the proposition says simply that the impact on state finances would be minimal.
Cons: Arguments against this proposition point to school funding and other local funding from tax revenue saying that by offering such an exemption would lessen tax dollar resources, which could be devastating, especially in areas where large groups of veterans live such as near military bases.

Proposition 3
This proposition reads, “The constitutional amendment repealing the requirement that state officers elected by voters statewide reside in the state capital.”
In the simplest of terms this simply means that state elected officials will no longer be required to be residents of Austin.
Pros: To understand why Prop 3 can be seen as favorable, it's important to understand the history of the original law which was included in the 1876 Constitution, a time when elected officials still traveled on horseback. Those in favor of 3 say that the requirement is outdate, and mandates that officials spend an unreasonable amount of time and money procuring a home in Austin, a city that is increasingly costly to live in.
Cons: Those in opposition of Prop 3 argue that the statewide elected officials should live in Austin because it simply makes the most sense, and state legislators should spend the majority of their time in the state's capitol. There is also concern that allowing for residence outside of Austin might result in more travel reimbursement, and that, in the case of any wrongdoing, they might avoid prosecution in Travis County and be able to face charges in their home county where they would likely have more political and personal support.

Proposition 4
This ballot issue reads, “The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to permit professional sports team charitable foundations to conduct charitable raffles.”
What this does is increase the number of raffles a pro sports team's charity can hold, and allows it to use the proceeds to pay for promotional and administrative expense.
Pros: Those in favor of the proposition say that since sports teams' foundations are already able to conduct raffles but are currently limited with only two non-cash prizes to be awarded per year. This amendment increases the number, and supporters say that might help encourage fans to give their hard earned dollars to worthy causes, and overall increase awareness of community needs.
Cons: The main concern and argument against Prop 4 is the worry that eventually sports teams would use the law as a basis to install electronic raffle machines in sporting venues.

Proposition 5
Prop 5 will appear on the ballot with the following language, “The constitutional amendment to authorize counties with a population of 7,500 or less to perform private road construction and maintenance.”
Currently only counties with 5,000 or less residents are allowed to perform maintenance on private roads, this initiative increases the population limit to 7,500 or less.
Pros: Those in favor of the increase say that with growth in rural Texas counties since this authority was first made law in 1980 it's simply a matter of updating the law to allow for population growth. Additionally, they argue that this will allow counties to ensure citizen safety in a financially responsible way.
Cons: The concerns and reasons to vote against Prop 5 include an argument for getting rid of the limit on private road maintenance and construction altogether. The argument continues saying that even large counties should be able to ensure the safety of residents, as long as those who own private roads agree to pay the county for work performed.

Proposition 6
This proposition says, “The constitutional amendment recognizing the right of the people to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife subject to laws that promote wildlife conservation.”
With a nod towards the pioneer spirit of Texas, this proposition adds hunting and fishing as constitutional rights and also sets it as the preferred method of wildlife population control.
Pros: In favor of the measure is the argument that a Texan's right to fish & hunt as part of the constitution acts as a fail-safe for the future should any animal rights or environmental group seek to limit these practices in the future. There is nothing in the measure that would prohibit the state from continuing to require fee-based licenses, and nothing that will interfere with current trespass, or property rights law.
Cons: Those in opposition say that it's not only unnecessary, but it can be problematic if the wildlife control requirement isn't properly managed and creates and imbalance in the ecosystem. Additionally there is concern that there would be confusion over the state and federal government's authority to regulate pastimes.

Proposition 7
The measure reads, “The constitutional amendment dedicating certain sales and use tax revenue and motor vehicle sales, use, and rental tax revenue to the state highway fund to provide funding for non-toll roads and the reduction of certain transportation-related debt.”
This means that the kind of revenue deposited into the state highway fund would change. The state comptroller would annually deposit $2.5 billion of sales and use tax (after the first $28 billion is collected), and 35% of state motor vehicle sales, use, and rental tax (after the first $5 billion is collected). Legislature could make reductions to the amount by 2/3 vote.
Pros: Those in favor of the amendment say this is the most reasonable way to provide a steady budget to build and maintain state highways. They point out the the sales and use tax provision would only be in effect for 15 years, and the motor vehicle sales tax provision a decade unless revisited by legislature.
Cons: The negative aspects of this measure include the statement that dedicating tax money like this isn't the best way to ensure a budget for the state highway fund, especially when that money may then have to be cut from education and health care budgets. It's argued that a better solution would be to use the state budget surplus to fund the highways.