Monday, October 19, 2009

How Not to be a Zombie Voter: Constitutional Amendment Edition (Updated and bumped to the top)

Here is the product of my research into the Constitutional Amendments for the November election, undertaken for the American Conservative Party. The following is my own opinion and is not and should not be taken to be the official position of the ACP. The ACP may or may not follow my recommendations.

I tried to answer the following questions:

1. Do the goals of the amendment match with Conservative goals?
2. Do the methods of the amendment match with Conservative methods?
3. Is the amendment in support of a good public policy?
4. Does the amendment incur a tax burden or other public cost/debt that is excessive?

Ideally the answers should be Yes,Yes, Yes and No in that order. Not all of the amendments meet those criteria.

Proposition 1

HJR 132 (History of HJR 132)

"The constitutional amendment authorizing the financing, including through tax increment financing, of the acquisition by municipalities and counties of buffer areas or open spaces adjacent to a military installation for the prevention of encroachment or for the construction of roadways, utilities, or other infrastructure to protect or promote the mission of the military installation."

1. The goal of this amendment is to allow cities and counties to finance the purchase of land surrounding a military installation to prevent the encroachment onto land needed for adjacent infrastructure in and around the installation. Does it support a conservative ideal? I would say that the answer is a qualified yes, if it is used in the manner that it is apparently intended to be used. However I can see how it might be used by cities and counties to get into the land speculation business, which would not be consistent with conservative ideals. I am not aware of the specific impetus for this measure, I'm sure it was originally crafted to solve a specific problem at a specific base, but in order to achieve that end it required a constitutional amendment. The amendment could however lead to eminent domain takings if the current owners do not wish to sell. As such the answer is probably no overall.

2. Do the methods match with conservative methods? Eh, not so much, it allows for TIRZ and Bond monies backed by ad valorem taxes to be used to purchase the land, but the enabling legislation for the TIRZ did not pass so bonds would be the only available vehicle for financing at least until the next session of the legislature.

3. Is the amendment in support of a good public policy? It sounds good in theory, but in practice, it probably won't be used for good public policy, the answer is probably no.

4. Does the amendment incur a tax burden or other public cost/debt that is excessive? It does incur public debt, whether it is an excessive amount is subject to interpretation. The answer is probably yes.

I would recommend voters vote no on this amendment.

Further reading:

Proposition 2

HJR 36-1 (History of HJR 36-1)

"The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to provide for the ad valorem taxation of a residence homestead solely on the basis of the property's value as a residence homestead."

  1. Do the goals of the amendment match with Conservative goals? This amendment would prevent taxing authorities from valuing a residence homestead based on it's possible “highest and best use” as commercial property. Therefore it prevents the loss of homesteads to the tax collector because the house is now worth more as commercial property than it is as a house. This is certainly a conservative ideal, so the answer is yes.

  1. Do the methods of the amendment match with Conservative methods? Yes, it prevents the taxing authority from ignoring the historical and current use of a parcel of real estate when evaluating it for tax purposes.

  1. Is the amendment in support of a good public policy? Yes, it prevents tax increases on homesteads that may be surrounded by commercial property.

  1. Does the amendment incur a tax burden or other public cost/debt that is excessive? Depends on your POV. I'm sure that to taxing authorities it is a burden because they cannot levy higher taxes based on the land's “highest and best use” but it also prevents homeowners from losing their homes to the taxman too. I tend to fall on the side of the homeowners.

I would say this proposition is a no-brainer to support.

Proposition 3

HJR 36-3 (History of HJR 36-3)

"The constitutional amendment providing for uniform standards and procedures for the appraisal of property for ad valorem tax purposes."

This is a companion measure that prevents two different taxing authorities from valuating the same property differently. Everything that was said about Prop 2 applies here as well. It's a no-brainer.

Proposition 4

HJR 14-2 (History of HJR 14-2)

"The constitutional amendment establishing the national research university fund to enable emerging research universities in this state to achieve national prominence as major research universities and transferring the balance of the higher education fund to the national research university fund."

While allowing UH to join the monied elite of tier one schools is on the whole probably a good thing, I'm concerned about the costs that may arise out of it. I'm cautiously endorsing this measure, but we must keep an eye on the costs as well. I'm concerned about the unintended consequences, which there may well be many.

Proposition 5

HJR 36-2 (History of HJR 36-2)

"The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to authorize a single board of equalization for two or more adjoining appraisal entities that elect to provide for consolidated equalizations."

See prop 2 and prop 3. no-brainer.

Proposition 6

HJR 116 (History of HJR 116)

"The constitutional amendment authorizing the Veterans' Land Board to issue general obligation bonds in amounts equal to or less than amounts previously authorized."

This measure would essentially reauthorize the Veteran's Land Board program at the same or less funding level as before. While providing land financing for veterans is a good thing, I suspect this would ultimately cost the state more than we would derive from it. I'm going to say I support this measure, mainly on the basis that anything good for our veterans is a good thing and we are not discussing a increase in funding, but I'm leery of the costs that might be incurred later as well.

Proposition 7

HJR 127 (History of HJR 127)

"The constitutional amendment to allow an officer or enlisted member of the Texas State Guard or other state militia or military force to hold other civil offices."

Basically allows city and county employees and elected officials to also be members of the TNG & TANG. I don't see a problem with this in the slightest. No-brainer.

Proposition 8

HJR 7 (History of HJR 7)

"The constitutional amendment authorizing the state to contribute money, property, and other resources for the establishment, maintenance, and operation of veterans hospitals in this state."

Shouldn't this be a federal VA function? Isn't that what the VA is supposed to be doing with the billions of taxpayer dollars it receives? I love veterans, and I'm sorely tempted to endorse it, but is this a state function? It incurs costs. As much as I'd like to endorse this, I am forced to recommend voting no.

Proposition 9

HJR 102 (History of HJR 102)

"The constitutional amendment to protect the right of the public, individually and collectively, to access and use the public beaches bordering the seaward shore of the Gulf of Mexico."

This amendment arises out of a lawsuit between the estate of a family that holds an original Spanish land grant to the only private beach in the state and the Texas Land Office. It is intended to be and end run around the courts to essentially seize the beach. The existing Texas Open Beaches Act did not apply to this parcel due to the fact that the land was still owned by the decedents of the original land grant holders. This amendment would be essentially an ex post facto law, seizing the property without just compensation. I oppose this measure.

Proposition 10 *UPDATED*

HJR 85 (History of HJR 85)

"The constitutional amendment to provide that elected members of the governing boards of emergency services districts may serve terms not to exceed four years."

Term limits for ESD board members. Can't see a reason not to support it. These boards become very insular with little turnover. That is an environment ripe for abuse.

UPDATE: It has come to my attention that this proposal is a sleeper amendment. This amendment sounds like it is limiting the length of terms to ESD district board members when it is in fact extending them by two years. Now I can see the argument that holding an election every two years is expensive for ESD districts, but as blogHouston and KPRC channel 2 has shown, some ESD districts need closer scrutiny. Therefore I am reversing myself and recommending that voters vote no on this amendment.

Proposition 11

HJR 14-1 (History of HJR 14-1)

"The constitutional amendment to prohibit the taking, damaging, or destroying of private property for public use unless the action is for the ownership, use, and enjoyment of the property by the State, a political subdivision of the State, the public at large, or entities granted the power of eminent domain under law or for the elimination of urban blight on a particular parcel of property, but not for certain economic development or enhancement of tax revenue purposes, and to limit the legislature's authority to grant the power of eminent domain to an entity."

Saving the best for last. Intended to combat the Kelo decision, so it should be heartily endorsed, but it has one loophole that still needs to be addressed and that is the eminent domain power to combat urban blight. We have seen how urban blight is used here in Houston as an excuse to seize land that is then redeveloped into properties with much higher tax values (by developer friends of the mayor). I'm not certain that the protections in this amendment are enough to prevent that, but it is a step in the right direction. Better half a loaf than nothing at all.


Blogger His angel said...

Thank you. I received an email today saying vote "NO" on 2 and 3 because it would allow the state to charge property taxes. That's not how I read it once I looked them up. But I have to admit I didn't understand some of the legalese. I wish they would just speak in layman terms somewhere. Hopefully this will be enough for me to email her back and try to set it straight. Though now I fear how far the email has spread and the people that will vote not understanding the propositions.

October 08, 2009 3:01 PM  
Blogger Rorschach said...

You are more than welcome. I try to do this for every off-year election because some of these CAN get pretty confusing. And since this is an off-year the turn out will probably be pretty low so all of these extremely important issues will be decided by a very few people. If some taxing authority manages to start some kind of viral email groundswell by confusing or outright lying to the voters, the you can have a very motivated, if misled, group dominate the issue. With the turnout being so low it would not take a lot of besotted individuals to throw things the wrong way.

October 08, 2009 9:58 PM  
Blogger Rorschach said...

A few further thoughts:

In regards to Prop 1. there is another consideration that I did not consider when I wrote my original reccomendations that further reinforces my recommendation against this proposition. This apparently arises out of an issue in the San Antonio area. The city wants to buy up land around the multiple military bases, ostensibly to prevent encroachment. however, at at least one of these military bases, there is a subterranean plume of toxic waste that is emminating from a superfund site on and adjacent to one of the the military bases (Kelly AFB). This plume is made up of solvents used in cleaning aircraft parts during repair activities at the base (it is a major repair depot.). This will leave the city on the hook for cleaning up the toxic waste that has traveled onto land they are to purchase.

In regards to the VA Hospital proposal (Prop 8). this arises out of a desire by one of the Democrat state legislators in the Laredo area for a VA hospital in the Rio Grande Valley which the VA does not wish to build, So this Democrat has decided to put the State of Texas on the financial hook to build a VA hospital that the VA does not believe needs to be built. After all, there is a major VA hospital complex 143 road miles away in San Antonio (BMAC) that serves the Laredo area. This would be like building a VA hospital in Huntsville when there is already a major VA hospital in Houston. This is in actuality an attempt to build yet another hospital for use by non-citizens on the border with Mexico. Dollars to donuts, most of the users of this hospital will be the non-citizen spouses of non-citizen military members (one of many more direct routes to US citizenship) and their families, and the largest number of cases handled there will be births.

October 24, 2009 1:57 PM  

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