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Water Funding Proposition Makes Unusual Allies

A proposal to amend the state Constitution to fund water projects in Texas is bringing together strange bedfellows both in support of and in opposition to the measure.

By Neena Satija, The Texas Tribune and Reveal
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Proposition 6, a water financing measure that voters will decide on in November, is bringing together groups that are typically at odds politically.

Conservative Republicans, including members of the Tea Party, and liberal environmentalists have formed a coalition urging Texans to vote against the measure, which would amend the Texas Constitution to allow the use of $2 billion from the state’s Rainy Day Fund for water projects. Meanwhile, other environmental advocacy groups have joined with state Republican leaders to promote Proposition 6 as an important part of solving the state's drought problem. As the November election draws closer, both sides are increasing their efforts. 

Opponents of Proposition 6 held press conferences across the state Monday. In Austin, the conservative group Hays Constitutional Republicans argued that the measure would put too much power into the hands of the three members of the Texas Water Development Board, the agency that will decide how the funds are used. “If you do not want to be controlled by three politicians and their cronies, you need to vote no,” said Lenee Lovejoy, a member of the group. 

On the same stage were members of the environmental group Save Our Springs. They opposed the proposition for a different reason, arguing that the projects that Proposition 6 would help fund are unnecessary, and that more should be done to conserve water resources.

“Why should Texas taxpayers subsidize decades more of water waste?” asked Bill Bunch, executive director of Save Our Springs Alliance. 

The groups' priorities may be different — one is fighting for smaller government, more local control of big decisions and less spending, while the other is focused on water conservation, the environment and long-term water resources — but both believe that the measure is more about making money on big water projects than about preserving water for Texans. The donors to campaigns supporting the measure, they say, are dominated by prominent water consulting and engineering firms and large energy companies.

“There’s been more of a connection between fiscal conservatives and conservationists than people have realized for a long time,” Bunch said. “Whether your priority is ratepayers or rivers, this proposition is really bad."

But the opponents of the measure still have a lot of convincing to do, according to a recent poll conducted by The Texas Tribune and the University of Texas at Austin. The internet survey of 800 registered voters found that half would vote for Proposition 6, while a quarter said they didn’t know or had no opinion.

“We’re not seeing that coalition mobilize in the polling that we’ve done,” said Jim Henson, director of the Texas Policy Project at UT-Austin, which conducted the poll. 

Henson said the coalition that supports the proposition appears to be more effective. That group is also made of unlikely allies. Environmental advocates like the Sierra Club and the Nature Conservancy have joined prominent Republican politicians like Gov. Rick Perry and state Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, in urging voters to approve the measure in November. Fraser’s political action committee, Water Texas, has raised nearly $1 million, according to the most recent campaign finance data available. 

And Perry has been touring the state touting Proposition 6 as critical to meet the increasing water needs of Texas' growing population.

“If Texas is to remain the best place to live, work, grow your business or raise your family, we must ensure adequate supplies for generations to come,” Perry said at a press event in San Angelo this month.

Groups that oppose Proposition 6 say they plan their own big push to reach voters in the coming weeks.

"The key is to convince voters that more money won’t solve the problem,” Bunch said.

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