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Election Coverage

Constitutional amendments provide food for voter thought

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October 16, 2013 | 3,035 views | Post a comment

There are nine proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution on the ballot for voters to decide in the Nov. 5 General Election. Here are some basics about each proposition, provided with information from the League of Women Voters - Texas.

Proposition 1: If passed, this will allow the surviving spouse of a member of the U.S. armed services who was killed in action to be exempt from paying local property taxes based on all or part of the total appraised value of the homestead, providing the spouse has not remarried, and the property was the residence of the spouse at the time of death.

This would assist surviving spouses by providing relief during such a difficult time.

On the other hand, school districts and local governments would receive less revenue from property taxes. School districts would have to seek state assistance to cover the reduction. Local governments where military families form a large part of the population could lose substantial revenue and may prompt the local entities to increase taxes for other taxpayers.

Proposition 2: If voters approve this, it would repeal the State Medical Education Board, which has been idle since 1988, and the related fund. This would clean up the constitution by removing the board and references to it.

Opponents suggest a constitutional amendment to remove references to State Medical Education Board and Fund is unnecessary because they are defunct and no loans have been issued since 1988.

Proposition 3: Approval will provide an extension to an existing exemption, commonly referred to as a “freeport exemption,” from property taxes on eligible property that is in Texas temporarily, such as various types of merchandise used in manufacturing or processing. The proposed amendment applies only to aircraft and aircraft parts, and would allow local governments to extend the time before the property has to be transported outside of the state from 175 days up to 730 days.

Supporters say the extension would provide an economic development tool to make Texas competitive in the aerospace industry that contributes billions to the state’s economy, because most other states don’t impose a tax on inventory. Granting an extension would be an option of each local government already granting an exemption.

Opponents say an additional extension for aircraft and aircraft parts would reduce local tax revenue and favor one industry over others.

Proposition 4: Under Texas law provides an exemption from ad valorem taxation for a 100-percent, or fully disabled, veteran on the veteran’s resident homestead, with certain restrictions.

This would extend the exemption to partially disabled veterans or their surviving spouses, at a percentage of the market value equal to the percentage of disability, if the homestead has been donated by a charitable organization at no cost to the veteran.

Proponents say veterans have sacrificed for our country and are deserving of our help, and the cost of the exemption is small, because very few homes are donated to veterans each year and such veterans are unlikely to return to full employment and need the help.

However, uniformity in taxation issues arise in singling out a group for special exemptions. And if the purpose is to help partially disabled veterans keep their homes, opponents say, the exemption should not be permanent, but expire when they can afford to pay their taxes.

Proposition 5: This will allow a Texas senior, age 62 or older, to purchase a new principal residence and obtain a reverse mortgage within a single transaction. It would also require reverse mortgage lenders to expand currently required counseling to borrowers to include disclosure of the specific behaviors that can lead to foreclosure on a property.

Those in favor say this gives seniors a financing tool available nationwide that provides homeowners with the opportunity to save money, while offering flexibility in the purchase of a new home. Unique to Texas will be increased consumer protections, including a 12-day disclosure period.

Some are concerned that reverse mortgages are complex financial products that consumers struggle to understand. Homeowners could lose a lifetime of home equity as a result of fraud, scams, misleading advertising, aggressive sales tactics, and discriminatory practices sometimes associated with reverse mortgages.

Proposition 6: (Read more about this proposition beginning on page 1A.) This would establish two funds to finance local water projects prioritized by the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB). The funds would receive an initial transfer of $2 billion from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to provide low-interest loans for water projects in the state water plan and provide a revolving cash flow as loans are repaid.

Proponents say it will provide funding without raising taxes.

Others say the two new funds are unnecessary as there is already available funding for water development projects administered by TWDB. Taking money from the Rainy Day Fund could reduce the state’s excellent credit rating and affect the state’s ability to respond to a natural disaster or other emergency situations.

Proposition 7: Passage will mean that home-rule municipalities will provide in their charters a procedure to fill a vacancy on their governing bodies for which the unexpired term is 12 months or less.

If passed, this will cut taxpayer costs, negating the need for a special election if an elected official passes away or otherwise leaves office. Vacancies can be filled by appointment until an election is due.

This could, however, increase the opportunity for corruption if city officials appoint one another; the cost of special elections, say opponents, is a small price to pay for accountability.

Proposition 8: If approved, this will remove from the Texas Constitution a 1960 amendment that authorized the creation of a hospital district in Hidalgo County with a maximum tax rate of 10 cents per $100 valuation of taxable property, a limit that is below all other counties in Texas.

Hidalgo County is the largest Texas county without an operating hospital district and has the highest percentage without health insurance in the nation.

On the other hand, passage of this would increase the taxes for property owners in Hidalgo County since a hospital district could be created with a tax rate as high as 75 cents per $100 valuation of all property.

Proposition 9: This relates to sanctions against a judge or justice following formal proceedings of the State Commission on Judicial Contact.

This would lead to greater public accountability for judges and justices and promote confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary, among other things.

Opponents believe stronger measures are needed than those provided in this measure to hold judges accountable for judicial misconduct.

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