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On the Ballot: Taxes, Property, and College

Texans — at least those who do this kind of thing — will vote on 11 proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution on November 3.

Texans — at least those who do this kind of thing — will vote on 11 proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution on November 3.

(Some already started; early voting began this week and runs through October 30.)

Experiencing significant crossfire is a cluster of amendments (2, 3, and 5) dealing with property tax appraisals. All three stem from House Joint Resolution 36.

Prop. 2 stops a home from being appraised based on its value as commercial property — or its "best use." Some wonder why, if the money a big box store could pay a homeowner for their land is real, the communities shouldn't consider that when procuring much needed tax dollars for their school district. Others, like Rep. Ralph Sheffield, R-Temple, feel that burdening select citizens with higher taxes is "wrong and it's time to make it unconstitutional."

There would be uniform statewide standards for property appraisal ifProp. 3 passes. If Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, is right, this is that "rarity when there is no opposition to an issue related to state government." This ignores vocal opposition from local control advocates who prefer counties enforcing standards themselves. Colorful agitatorLinda Curtis of Independent Texans calls it "truly rotten" and "the Trojan Horse of this election."

The runt of this litter, Prop. 5, allows separate appraisal districts to combine, with legislative approval. Rural districts could benefit because they have trouble staffing their review boards. The Austin Chroniclecalled this "entirely trivial" — as opposed to the merely "trivial" Prop. 3 — and then endorsed both.

What crossfire? A chain e-mail that mislabels these as "propositions 1, 2, and 3" has made its way around the state claiming, "If you own a home, and these laws are passed, you will be taxed by the State." Rep. John Otto, R-Dayton, one of the bill's coauthors has been scrambling to assure voters that's "blatantly false." The Texas Constitution prohibits a state property tax. Otto, along with Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, has launched a new website (under the auspices of STAR PAC) that Williams says, "anyone confused or concerned about the effect of these propositions should visit."

Elected officials are climbing over each other to endorse the Prop. 4 plan to devote state funds to developing more Tier One universities. Gov. Rick Perry already voted for it. Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, calls it "a big deal — a once-in-a-generation opportunity to super-charge our economy, help our universities and create a lasting inheritance for future generations." Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Schiefferand Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, are on board. Despite prominent Republican support, Young Conservatives of Texas came out against the measure in a YouTube video calling for a wiser investment.

The final amendment in the spotlight is Prop. 11, which limits the state's eminent domain authority. This is the first time Texans will vote on the issue since the 2005 U.S. Supreme Court Kelo v. New London decision. Rivals U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Gov. Rick Perry have both made a show of their support for this protection of private citizens. On the other hand, it may be unnecessary. On his website, Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, explains, "The Legislature has already passed a law providing protections against abuse of eminent domain authority."

Also being considered is Prop. 8 proposing a state fund to help veterans' hospitals. Some say it's a federal issue, but State Sens. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, and Democratic U.S. Senate candidate John Sharp say people should vote early because, when it comes to veterans, "a 'yes' vote... is too important to risk waiting."

Prop. 9 writes access to public beaches into the state constitution. Unfazed by arguments that private property rights might be infringed upon, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson opined, "Can you imagine driving your family to the beach for summer vacation only to find a high fence covered with 'no trespassing' signs?"

Tax dollars could go to buy up land for buffer zones around military bases if Prop. 1 passes. Empower Texans, a conservative PAC, fears it allows "local entities to incur debt and raise property taxes in attempts to keep federal installations that may no longer be necessary to the military's mission or performance." But, if those bases are lost, supporters fear for the security and economy of the surrounding communities.

Prop. 7 grants members of the Texas State Guard an exception to an arguably antiquated law that says civil servants can't hold two government positions. It has the support of bipartisan coalition of Rep.Phil King, R-Weatherford, Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Van, Rep. Aaron Pena, D-Edinburg, and Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City.

Prop. 6 lets the Veterans' Land Board issue bonds to help veterans with home loans and land purchases. Prop. 10 extends term limits for state-elected emergency services districts from two years to four. Voters' passions aren't coalescing on either side for these two.

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