November 8, 2011
State Constitutional Amendments on Texas Ballot
So I sat down to write a post noting some of the land-use related issues that are before Texas voters today as proposed amendments to the state constitution, and then I went off on a rant about why I don't like voting on state constitutional amendments--generally, because they're already too bloated with non-fundamental policy; and specifically, because of the informational problems that make it a terrible democratic mechanism. But anyway, there are ten proposed amendments to the Texas constitution today, so let's see if any involve land use . . .
None of them seem to be that radical this year, and hence haven't gotten any publicity to speak of (unlike last time around (2009), when eminent domain reform and constitutionalizing the Texas Open Beach Act were on the ballot). But as always, a few of them will affect land use--politically, structurally, and fiscally. The 2011 Analysis of Proposed Constitutional Amendments by the Texas Legislative Council is probably the best source out there. So let's take a look at a few. I'll paraphase the ballot language, which in turn only paraphrases the actual text of the amendments that will be come law!
1. Authorizing the legislature to provide a property tax exemption on the residential homestead of a surviving spouse of a 100% disabled veteran;
2. Authorizing the Texas Water Board to issue general obligation bonds up to $6 billion for water projects;
4. Authorize the legislature to allow a county to incur debt "to finance the development or redevelopment of an unproductive, underdeveloped, or blighted area within the county," and to pay for it with increased tax revenues from that area.
Now this one really strikes me as a great example of what I was talking about in my last post. What this is about is tax-increment financing, e.g. TIFs. On the one hand, if you read the background of this proposal, it's not radical; it's simply giving county governments the same power that municipal governments already have. On the other hand, the uses and abuses of TIFs are a big deal, and if it took this land use professor a few minutes of closely reading the ballot language to figure out that that's what were voting on, I can't have much confidence that this vote is in any way informed.
5. Authorize the legislature to allow city and county governments to enter contracts with each other (for, e.g., consolidation or regional projects) without the imposition of a tax or a sinking fund).
6. Allow the General Land Office to distribute revenue from certain dedicated lands for educational purposes.
7. Allow El Paso County to create conservation and reclamation districts to develop parklands.
8. Require the legislature to tax open space land devoted to water stewardship based on its productive capacity rather than its (usually higher) market value.
So there you have it, out of ten proposed state constitutional amendments put before the people of Texas today by the biennial session of the legislature, seven of them by my count have at least something to do with land use, even though they're more about structure and finance than use regulations per se. But of course, some of my students accuse me of "turning everything into a land use issue." But we all know it's true, right?
Anyway, I've got to run out now and go vote!
UPDATE 11/9/11: Seven amendments passed; the three that failed were #4 (county TIFs); #7 (El Paso parks); and #8 (tax assessment for water stewardship). The Secretary of State has the results. But hey, over 5% of the registered voters turned out!
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