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A Primer on the 14 Constitutional Amendments, Including Property Tax Relief

Election Day is here, in which voters will decide 14 constitutional amendments that address everything from water to high-speed internet to property taxes. Here's what you need to know before you vote.
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Sean McCabe

Election Day is today, which will task Texas voters with deciding 14 constitutional amendments. It is the most amendments on a ballot since 2007, when voters considered 16.

The amendments this year include property tax cuts, creating a water fund to address Texas’ growing need for water, cost-of-living adjustments for retired teachers, funds to maintain and create new state parks, and raising the mandatory retirement age for state judges. 

Today, the polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Dallas County has also made it easy to find an early voting location close to your home or office and even gauge how busy it is. (Spoiler: It will not be very busy. These are historically low turnout elections.)

Here’s a brief explainer about each amendment.

Proposition 1 would constitutionally protect the right for people and businesses to farm, ranch, manage wildlife, or anything else that would fall under the “right to engage in farming.” Cities cannot regulate farming practices without proving that it’s necessary to protect the public from danger, to conserve natural resources, or that it would harm animals or crop production. It would prevent cities from banning farming outright in an area for no specific reason. Advocates for the amendment say it is needed to keep cities from over-regulating farming and that it ensures that “generally accepted” practices will be allowed within counties and cities.

Opponents say it’s vaguely worded and will make it harder for cities and counties to protect their communities. They also worry that larger industrial farms will face less accountability.

Proposition 2 would allow cities and counties to lower property taxes for certain child care providers. The exemption must be at least 50 percent of the appraised value of the facility. It will apply to providers with at least 20 percent of its enrollment receiving childcare subsidies through the Texas Workforce Commission. The provider must participate in the Texas Rising Star program (TRS), which provides quality ratings for early childhood programs and subsidizes child care for low-income families.

Proponents say ensuring child care operators stay open will help the economy during a time when there are not enough providers, especially ones that accept subsidies. Reducing the costs for operators could also translate to staff retention and lower childcare costs, they said.

In Dallas-Fort Worth, 18 zip codes are considered child care deserts, Texas nonprofit Children at Risk said last week. Since the pandemic, the availability of subsidized childcare dropped by more than 22 percent in North Texas, and TRS spots for low-income families dropped by nearly 20 percent.

Critics say it will shift the tax burden to homeowners and other businesses.

Proposition 3 would prohibit a wealth or net worth tax on the value of someone’s assets—things like pensions, the money you have in the bank, stocks, real estate, and trust funds. Wealth taxes don’t exist anywhere in the United States, including Texas. The amendment would require an election before the state could enact a new state tax based on wealth. 

Advocates say that it’s unnecessary to pass something that hasn’t even been entertained by lawmakers. They also say it eliminates options that would potentially allow the state to shift tax burdens to people who can afford to pay more and options that could offset shortfalls in school, infrastructure, and health care funding. 

Critics say it’s necessary to cut the idea off at the pass, and argue that it’s difficult to determine the fair value of some assets.

Proposition 4, which addresses property tax reform, was passed during the July special session. It is designed to reduce property tax bills by addressing what accounts for the largest portion: school district property tax rates.

It would compress school district maintenance and operation (M&O, as it’s abbreviated) property tax rates by 10.7 cents per $100 valuation. The M&O rate funds things like teacher salaries and building maintenance. In exchange, the state will distribute more than $12 billion to districts to make up what is lost in tax revenue.

It would also raise the school district homestead exemption from $40,000 to $100,000. The appraised value of property that is not subject to a homestead exemption—like a business or second home—but is valued at $5 million or lower cannot increase by more than 20 percent over the previous year. It would also require that counties with populations greater than 75,000 have three elected seats on its appraisal district board.

This proposition comes at a critical time. Lawmakers in Austin are now debating whether to introduce vouchers or education savings accounts that would divert money to a limited number of families to help offset the cost of their children to attend private schools or cover home school resources. So far, proposals to raise the $6,160 basic allotment per pupil—the baseline funding given to school districts per student—have ranged from $30 to $75. 

Both sides of the aisle agree that property tax relief is needed. But opponents say this measure provides no relief for renters, who account for more than a third of Texas households. They also question whether this relief will ultimately harm public schools in light of the voucher talk. Advocates say that the reform will save Texas homeowners an estimated $1,300 a year or more and that the people who benefit most live in median-priced homes.

Proposition 5 would create the Texas University Fund to provide money for research grants at the state’s public universities. It aims to create more nationally recognized research universities—including the University of North Texas, the University of Texas Arlington, and the University of Texas Dallas. The state currently has two: the University of Texas and Texas A&M University. The legislature would allocate $4 billion in seed money and can provide up to $100 million per year from the Rainy Day Fund. The proposition also creates benchmarks to determine whether a program qualifies for a grant. 

Proposition 6 would put $1 billion into a special fund that would pay to suss out new water supplies and improve water infrastructure. The new fund would operate outside the general fund and would be administered by the Texas Water Development Board. At least 25 percent of the fund would pay for new water supply projects. If the measure passes, the fund would be created in January, with the goal of finding 7 million acre-feet of new water supply by 2033.

Proponents say that the state desperately needs to address water availability and improve aging infrastructure that contributes to billions of gallons of lost water from leakage. Opponents say that $1 billion is a drop in the bucket.

Proposition 7 would create a $5 billion fund for the Public Utility Commission to use to provide loans and grants to companies that want to build or upgrade their gas-fired electric generating plants.

Proponents of the measure say gas-powered generation is needed because it doesn’t rely on variables like sunlight or wind. More plants will mean that the state’s power grid would become more stable because additional power could be dispatched during times of peak demand. But opponents remember being very cold in 2021 when Winter Storm Uri hit, and gas-powered generators failed. They also would prefer to see the funding include renewable energy that doesn’t harm the environment.

Proposition 8 would put $1.5 billion into expanding the state’s broadband internet access. The lack of access to broadband internet became most noticeable during the pandemic, as students without it were at a disadvantage, and a newly remote workforce found it difficult to work in areas considered tech deserts.

The proposition would expand high-speed internet throughout Texas, especially in places where it is not always available. It can also be used to help improve 911 services or to match federal dollars for broadband projects. The fund would last for 10 years. 

Proposition 9 would provide the first cost-of-living adjustment in teacher pensions in almost 20 years by moving $3.3 billion from the general fund into the Teacher Retirement System of Texas. If approved, retired teachers would begin seeing the addition in their checks in January. Between a one-time extra paycheck in September and adjustment, the expenditure will be about $5 billion. 

Depending on when they retired, teachers could get anywhere from a 2 percent to a 6 percent adjustment, and that would also extend to their spouse if the teacher is deceased.

Proposition 10 would eliminate property taxes on equipment or inventory belonging to companies that make medical or biomedical products. A fiscal note attached to the legislation behind this proposition says that school districts could lose more than $200 million in property tax revenue over five years.

Proponents say that Texas is one of the few states taxing this equipment, and it doesn’t impact a company’s property taxes. Removing the tax could bring more manufacturing jobs to the state, and also lower healthcare costs, they say.

Critics say that the state should stop peeling away school funding, and that it is an unnecessary tax break that singles out an industry that already has generous profit margins.

Propositions 11 and 12 are not applicable to Dallas. The former would allow El Paso County municipal utility districts the ability to issue bonds to develop and maintain parks. The latter would eliminate the office of Galveston County Treasurer.

Proposition 13 would increase the minimum retirement age for state judges from 70 to 75, and would set the mandatory retirement age at 79 instead of 75. Both requirements are established in the Texas Constitution, and require a state judge to retire by December 31 of their fourth year of a six-year term if they reach 75 during those first four years, or at the end of the term he or she turns 75.

Advocates for the amendment say the state loses a lot of judicial knowledge to needless retirement, and people are generally working more years than they once did. The Judicial Conduct Commission can address questions surrounding a judge’s abilities. Critics say that the age limit provides more opportunity for the bench to reflect the demographics of Texas.

Proposition 14 would create a $1 billion fund to expand the current park system by creating new parks and improving ones that already exist. The money would come from the budget surplus to create the Centennial Parks Conservation Fund, in honor of the 100th anniversary of the state parks system. 

Author

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson

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Bethany Erickson is the senior digital editor for D Magazine. She's written about real estate, education policy, the stock market, and crime throughout her career, and sometimes all at the same time. She hates lima beans and 5 a.m. and takes SAT practice tests for fun.

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