2015 Constitutional Amendment Election Guide

October 11, 2015

On November 3, you will have an opportunity to vote on seven different constitutional amendments. These amendments were all proposed as legislation during the 84th legislative session and vetted through the legislative process like all other bills. However, when amending the Texas Constitution, an amendment not only has a higher threshold of passage during the legislative process but it also requires voter approval before it becomes law.

In this post you will find the ballot language for each proposed amendment along with a synopsis of what supporters and opponents are saying and my recommendation. I hope this provides a good overview. You can learn more about the amendments at www.sos.state.tx.us/elections/.

In person early voting runs Monday, October 19th through Friday, October 30th. Election day is Tuesday, November 3rd. See you at the polls!

Proposition 1 (SJR 1)

“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.”

DIGEST: Proposition 1 would increase the mandatory homestead exemption from $15,000 to $25,000. The taxable value of homesteads owned by the elderly or people who are disabled also would be correspondingly reduced. These provisions would take effect January 1, 2015, and would apply only to a tax year beginning on or after that date.

SUPPORTERS SAY: The property tax is one of the most onerous taxes. In areas of rapid economic growth where demand for housing is strong, homeowners, especially those living on fixed incomes, may be priced out of their homes by rising property taxes. The amount of the mandatory school district residence homestead exemption has not been updated since 1997, while appraisals have continued to increase. This amendment provides much needed tax relief by increasing the amount of the homestead exemption, reducing the amount of taxes paid by a homeowner. By making this effective for 2015 taxes, it ensures that relief is felt immediately. It also promotes economic growth by allowing homeowners to retain more of their money.

OPPONENTS SAY: The homestead exemption increase will only nominally provide property tax relief for homeowners. The exemption will reduce property taxes for the average homeowner by about $126 a year. The homestead exemption increase provides no benefit for those who rent homes. Property taxes are a local matter. The best way to control local property taxes is for voters to hold local officials accountable.


Proposition 2 (HJR 75)

“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.”

DIGEST: Proposition 2 would extend the current homestead property tax exemption that applies to the surviving spouse of a totally disabled veteran who died on or after January 1, 2010, to include the surviving spouse of a totally disabled veteran who: 1) died before January 1, 2010; and 2) would have qualified for the full exemption on the homestead’s entire value if it had been available to totally disabled veterans at that time. A surviving spouse who otherwise qualified would be entitled to an exemption of the same portion of the market value of the same property to which the disabled veteran’s exemption would have applied.

SUPPORTERS SAY: This will provide a valuable form of tax relief for families of deceased disabled veterans. Any fiscal impact on a single taxing district would be minimal. Current law unintentionally creates two classes of surviving spouses and treats them differently depending on when their spouses died. This amendment recognizes the sacrifice by a 100 percent or totally disabled veteran and the person’s surviving spouse as the same regardless of the date on which the disabled veteran died.

OPPONENTS SAY: The Legislative Budget Board’s fiscal note indicates that school districts, municipalities, counties, and other special taxing districts (such as hospitals) will lose some tax revenue under the enactment of this proposition.


Proposition 3 (SJR 52)

“The constitutional amendment repealing the requirement that state officers elected by voters statewide reside in the state capital.”

DIGEST: Currently certain state officers elected by the voters statewide, including the comptroller of public accounts, commissioner of the General Land Office, attorney general, commissioner of agriculture, and railroad commissioners, are to reside in Austin, at the state capital, while in office. Proposition 3 removes the residency requirement. The residence of the governor is not affected by this proposed amendment.

SUPPORTERS SAY: Current law requires all statewide officials to move to Travis County when they take office. The capital residency requirement was included in the 1875 Texas Constitution when state officers traveled to the state capital by train, horse and buggy. Some state officers would simply like the freedom to live in a neighboring county to Travis for selection of a preferred school district or similar local preference. Others wish to retain their residence in their home county commuting home on weekends.

OPPONENTS SAY: This amendment would allow state officers, who are serving in full-time paid positions, to be physically present at the state capital infrequently and to possibly neglect their duties of office. State officers serve as the chief operating officers for their respective agencies, which have central offices in Austin, and the officers’ duties require the officers to be available to the agency employees serving in Austin. State officers are often required to conduct statewide business at the seat of government, and residency in a location other than Austin may likely increase the state-reimbursed travel expenses of the officers.


Proposition 4 (SJR 73)

“The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to permit professional sports team charitable foundations to conduct charitable raffles.”

DIGEST: This proposition authorizes the legislature to permit professional sports team charitable foundations to conduct charitable raffles under the terms and conditions imposed by the law and to use raffle proceeds to pay reasonable advertising, promotional, and administrative expenses. The Texas Constitution as originally adopted prohibited all lotteries and gift enterprises in the state and has been interpreted to prohibit the state from authorizing most forms of gambling.

SUPPORTERS SAY: Would allow professional sports team charitable foundations to highlight the team’s philanthropic activities, bring awareness to community needs, encourage sports fans to contribute to worthy causes, and raise additional funds for the foundation’s charitable purposes. Under current law, nonprofit organizations may annually conduct not more than two charitable raffles. This amendment merely increases the number of raffles charitable foundations may conduct and authorizes cash payments.

OPPONENTS SAY: No comments opposing the proposed amendment were made throughout the legislative process. A review of other sources, however, indicates that gambling opponents, while not necessarily opposed to charitable raffles, are concerned that this will expand gambling in this state and encourage future expansions.


Proposition 5 (SJR 17)

“The constitutional amendment to authorize counties with a population of 7,500 or less to perform private road construction and maintenance.”

DIGEST: This proposition proposes an increase from 5,000 to 7,500 for the maximum population threshold of a county that may construct and maintain private roads if the county imposes a reasonable charge for the work.

SUPPORTERS SAY: This increase in the constitution should be updated to reflect the population growth we have seen in rural counties since this threshold was originally placed in the Texas Constitution in 1980. This amendment will give rural counties and private landowners more flexibility to update private roads that are poorly maintained. These poorly maintained roads create public safety hazards for citizens and emergency services.

OPPONENTS SAY: Instead of increasing the maximum population threshold for counties allowed to perform private roadwork, the population limit should be eliminated. All counties in the state should have the option to construct and maintain private roads in the county as long as private landowners agree and pay the county for the cost of the work.


Proposition 6 (SJR 22)

“The constitutional amendment recognizing the right of the people to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife subject to laws that promote wildlife conservation.”

DIGEST: Proposition 6 creates a new right for people to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife and establishes hunting and fishing as preferred methods of managing and controlling wildlife. This amendment does not affect laws or regulations that relate to trespass, property rights, eminent domain, or the municipal regulation of the discharge of a weapon in a populated area in the interest of public safety.

SUPPORTERS SAY: Supporters of the amendment feel that animal rights groups and antihunting activists may try to impose stricter limits on hunting and fishing in this state, and therefore seek constitutional protection for those activities as a preventative measure to preserve the opportunity to hunt and fish for future generations. This also protects the economic benefit enjoyed by the state from revenue generated from these activities.

OPPONENTS SAY: Opponents of the amendment feel that the amendment is unnecessary because there is no threat to hunting and fishing in this state. Efforts to enact the amendment as a preventative measure may in fact spur groups opposed to hunting and fishing to begin activity in response. A constitutionally stated preference of control may force regulations to change in a way that would make it more difficult to achieve a balanced ecosystem when other methods of control may be more appropriate in certain circumstances.


Proposition 7 (SJR5)

“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 nontolled roads and the reduction of certain transportation- related debt.”

DIGEST: Directs the Texas Comptroller to annually deposit to the state highway fund, in each fiscal year beginning with 2018, $2.5 billion of state sales tax revenue that exceeds the first $28 billion of those taxes collected during the year, and, in each fiscal year beginning with the 2020 fiscal year, 35 percent of the state motor vehicle sales, use, and rental tax revenue that exceeds the first $5 billion of those taxes collected during the fiscal year. This dedicated revenue will be deposited directly to the state highway fund for constructing, maintaining, acquiring right-of-ways for public roadways other than toll roads and for paying certain transportation- related bond debt.

SUPPORTERS SAY: The proposed amendment would provide a consistent and reliable source of funding for transportation projects in the state. The current system is inefficient and in poor repair in many areas, which has a negative effect on the state’s economy. A dedicated revenue source allows for future planning, addressing the state’s infrastructure demands. Under this amendment, existing projects can be completed and new projects can be planned up to 10 years in advance and started in areas that will lead to the greatest return on the state’s monetary investment.

OPPONENTS SAY: The proposed amendment is not the best method to address our transportation infrastructure concerns. It constitutionally dedicates billions of dollars each year and would tie the hands of future legislatures in a time when the legislature has discretion over less than 20 percent of the state’s budget. This could lead to the state being required to make substantial cuts in state services in the event of a downturn in the state’s economy. There are better alternatives for providing transportation funding that would not affect the state’s ability to respond to a future budget crisis. There is currently a considerable budget surplus available to the legislature that could be appropriated for transportation projects.