State constitutional amendments explained

Posted 10/26/23

The following analysis of the proposed 14 state constitutional amendments to be decided by Texas voters on Nov. 7 was prepared by the Texas Tribune.

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State constitutional amendments explained


The following analysis of the proposed 14 state constitutional amendments to be decided by Texas voters on Nov. 7 was prepared by the Texas Tribune.

Proposition 1 – HJR 126

“The constitutional amendment protecting the right to engage in farming, ranching, timber production, horticulture, and wildlife management.”

What it means: With Texas cities continuing to grow, this amendment would raise the bar for state and local regulation of generally accepted farming and ranching practices. It would require for state and local governments to provide evidence that the regulation is needed to protect the public from danger. For example, it would prevent a city from banning farming in an area for no specific reason, but it would allow for a government to require ranchers to put up fences for their livestock, according to the Texas Farm Bureau, which supports the amendment. The amendment would not affect state or local government efforts needed to preserve or conserve natural resources, such as water, fish, wildlife and trees. Nor would it affect state actions needed to protect animal health and crop production. Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller said “municipal encroachment will no longer threaten the livelihoods” of farmers and ranchers if the amendment passes. — Jayme Lozano Carver and María Méndez

Proposition 2 – SJR 64

“The constitutional amendment authorizing a local option exemption from ad valorem taxation by a county or municipality of all or part of the appraised value of real property used to operate a child-care facility.”

What it means: This resolution would allow cities and counties to exempt child care providers from property taxes for any facilities used to run a child care business. The value of the exemption would have to be at least 50 percent of the property’s appraised value.

The amendment would offer relief for child care businesses that have been struggling to stay open since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. With federal pandemic relief money set to dry up for child care businesses, some providers are preparing to close in the next year.

Supporters of the resolution argue that keeping child care businesses open is a win for the economy. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation found that the Texas economy loses nearly $9.4 billion a year from breakdowns in child care. Critics say property tax exemptions will result in higher tax burdens for homeowners and other businesses, who will have to pay more to make up for the lost revenue. — Sneha Dey

Proposition 3 – HJR 132

“The constitutional amendment prohibiting the imposition of an individual wealth or net worth tax, including a tax on the difference between the assets and liabilities of an individual or family.”

What it means: Several states have proposed so-called “wealth taxes” in recent months, referring to a tax on a person based on the market value of assets they own, which can include real property and retirement accounts, minus their debts or liabilities, such as bankruptcies. Texas has not introduced this and does not have a similar tax.

Supporters of those taxes argue that the impact on the extremely wealthy would be minimal, that the definition of “wealth” can be defined in a way that best suits each state, and that it would help pay for costly programs without impacting lower income people. Critics say raising taxes on someone’s wealth discourages business and that the revenue from it will be less than anticipated. They also say that overall wealth would decline, which would result in less investment and loss of tax revenue from other sources, such as sales and property taxes.

This amendment would force lawmakers to ask voters for authorization before they could impose any new state taxes on residents that would be based on net worth or wealth. — Karen Brooks Harper

Proposition 4 – HJR 2

“The constitutional amendment to authorize the legislature to establish a temporary limit on the maximum appraised value of real property other than a residence homestead for ad valorem tax purposes; to increase the amount of the exemption from ad valorem taxation by a school district applicable to residence homesteads from $40,000 to $100,000; to adjust the amount of the limitation on school district ad valorem taxes imposed on the residence homesteads of the elderly or disabled to reflect increases in certain exemption amounts; to except certain appropriations to pay for ad valorem tax relief from the constitutional limitation on the rate of growth of appropriations; and to authorize the legislature to provide for a four-year term of office for a member of the board of directors of certain appraisal districts.”

What it means: Texas has some of the highest property taxes in the nation. Earlier this year, Texas lawmakers approved a $12.7 billion package of property tax cuts that needs voter approval in order to take effect.

The package would send $7.1 billion to school districts so they can lower their property tax rates. School district taxes make up the bulk of a Texas property owner’s tax bill. The amendment would also raise the state’s school district homestead exemption — or the slice of a home’s value that can’t be taxed to pay for public schools — from $40,000 to $100,000, at a cost of $5.6 billion.

The amendment also includes other tax reforms, including a temporary limit on appraisals for commercial, mineral and residential properties that don’t receive a homestead exemption that are worth less than $5 million. If voters approve the idea, appraisal districts could not raise the taxable value of those properties by more than 20% each year for the next three years. The limit would expire in 2026 unless lawmakers and voters decide to extend it.

The amendment would also expand the pool of businesses that don’t have to pay the state’s franchise tax — and allow voters to elect three members to their local appraisal district’s board of directors, which are currently appointed. — Joshua Fechter

Proposition 5 – HJR 3 

The constitutional amendment relating to the Texas University Fund, which provides funding to certain institutions of higher education to achieve national prominence as major research universities and drive the state economy.”

What it means: If passed, the amendment would rename the National Research University Fund to the Texas University Fund. The university fund would gain the annual interest income, dividends and investment earnings from Texas’ rainy day fund to support research at state universities. Total money moved to the university fund in the 2024 fiscal year would be limited to $100 million. The annual amount may be adjusted for inflation and is limited to a 2% growth rate. The Texas A&M and University of Texas systems will not receive money from the fund as they receive research funds from a separate Permanent University Fund.

House Bill 1595 will also take effect if the amendment is passed, requiring the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to determine which universities are eligible and the size of each deposit. The fund will be managed by the comptroller and the Texas Treasury Safekeeping Trust Company. — Caroline Wilburn

Proposition 6 – SJR 75

“The constitutional amendment creating the Texas water fund to assist in financing water projects in this state.”

What it means: If approved, this resolution would create a new special fund in the state treasury outside of the general revenue fund, endowed with a $1 billion down payment. The fund would be administered by the Texas Water Development Board to support a wide range of projects including fixing Texas’ aging, deteriorating pipes, acquiring more water sources and mitigating water loss.

A portion of the fund would have to be used for water infrastructure projects in rural areas as well as for water conservation strategies and water loss projects. At least 25% of the fund would be used for the New Water Supply Fund for Texas, which will support projects to increase the state’s water supply through, for example, marine desalination and treating “produced water,” which comes from the ground during the oil fracking process.

The new fund would be created Jan. 1, 2024. — Pooja Salhotra

Proposition 7 – SJR 93

“The constitutional amendment providing for the creation of the Texas energy fund to support the construction, maintenance, modernization, and operation of electric generating facilities.”

What it means: If approved, this resolution would create a state fund allowing officials to distribute loans and grants to companies with the aim of building new natural gas-fueled power plants. This would include giving a 3% interest loan for the construction of or upgrades to gas-fueled power plants on the state’s main electric grid and paying a bonus for getting new plants connected by June 2029.

The Legislature set aside $5 billion to fund these programs for the next two years. Supporters say more gas-fueled power is needed because it can come on any time, unlike wind and solar power that depend on the wind to blow and the sun to shine to operate. Still, gas-fueled power plants are not always reliable and emit greenhouse gasses, which are driving climate change. — Emily Foxhall

Proposition 8 – HJR 125

“The constitutional amendment creating the broadband infrastructure fund to expand high-speed broadband access and assist in the financing of connectivity projects.”

What it means: Texas lawmakers made an investment in broadband development by passing a bill which would create the Texas broadband infrastructure fund — pending approval of this resolution.

With the passage of this resolution, $1.5 billion would be allocated to expand internet availability in Texas, where some 7 million people currently lack access. These dollars would help pay to develop and finance broadband and telecommunications services as well as 911 services. The fund will also provide matching funds with federal money from the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program. — Pooja Salhotra

Proposition 9 – HJR 2

“The constitutional amendment authorizing the 88th Legislature to provide a cost-of-living adjustment to certain annuitants of the Teacher Retirement System of Texas.”

What it means: During the regular session, lawmakers passed Senate Bill 10, which would provide some retired Texas teachers with cost-of-living raises to their monthly pension checks. For some, this is the first raise they will see in almost 20 years.

But to afford these raises, lawmakers need to ask voters to allow them to use $3.3 billion from the general revenue fund and move it to the retired teachers fund. — Brian Lopez

Proposition 10 – SJR 87

“The constitutional amendment to authorize the legislature to exempt from ad valorem taxation equipment or inventory held by a manufacturer of medical or biomedical products to protect the Texas healthcare network and strengthen our medical supply chain.”

What it means: School districts, cities and counties are currently allowed to collect property taxes on the value of equipment and inventory that are held by the manufacturers of medical or biomedical products, such as pharmaceuticals, personal protective equipment stocks, and medical devices.

This amendment would exempt those from a facility’s overall property values, leading to a potential decrease in their taxes. The new exemption would cost districts some $207 million in estimated revenue over the next five years, according to a financial analysis.

Supporters of the exemption say that it will encourage more manufacturers in the industry to locate in Texas, lower healthcare costs and strengthen the medical supply chain. Detractors say that school districts are already strapped for money and that the same goals can be achieved without lowering their revenue. They also point out that the amendment doesn’t keep taxing entities from raising tax rates to make up for the loss. — Karen Brooks Harper

Proposition 11 – SJR 32

“The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to permit conservation and reclamation districts in El Paso County to issue bonds supported by ad valorem taxes to fund the development and maintenance of parks and recreational facilities.”

What it means: Eleven counties’ conservation and reclamation districts are currently permitted to issue bonds supported by property taxes to fund recreational development and improvement. This proposed amendment would add El Paso County to the list.

Conservation and reclamation districts aid in managing stormwater storage, land irrigation and the conservation and development of forests within their designated boundaries. Critics of the amendment say it could cause property taxes to increase for El Paso County residents. — Ali Juell

Proposition 12 – HJR 134

“The constitutional amendment providing for the abolition of the office of county treasurer in Galveston County.”

What it means: If passed by a majority of Texans and Galveston County residents, this amendment would abolish Galveston County’s office of the county treasurer, an office that exists in other counties.

The office’s current role is to act as a bank for the county, which includes overseeing county investments, maintaining records of deposits and withdrawals and ensuring the safety of county funds. The Commissioner’s Court of Galveston County would be allowed to employ or contract an existing county official or other qualified person to complete tasks previously under the office.

Galveston County’s current treasurer, Hank Dugie, ran on eliminating the position and said in his campaign video the office is, “redundant and a waste of more than half a million dollars each year.” The County Treasurers Association of Texas opposes the proposition, however, arguing that such a change won’t save money and that having an independently elected treasurer — rather than an employee of the commissioners court — ensures a separation of powers in the county and creates a system that lets a treasurer “challenge the commissioners’ court if they question the legality and propriety of a payment order.” — Ali Juell

Proposition 13 – HJR 107

“The constitutional amendment to increase the mandatory age of retirement for state justices and judges.”

What it means: Voters will decide if state judges can retire at 79, instead of the current mandatory retirement age of 75. Proposition 13 would also increase the minimum retirement age from 70 to 75 for state judges.

Legal groups advocating for the change argued that more people are working later into their careers than previous generations. Supporters say extending this mandatory retirement age will minimize judicial turnover by keeping elected public servants, who are willing to do this work, on the bench. — William Melhado

Proposition 14 – SJR 74

“The constitutional amendment providing for the creation of the centennial parks conservation fund to be used for the creation and improvement of state parks.”

What it means: Texas ranks 35th in the nation for state park acreage per capita, according to a report by Environment Texas. This pressured lawmakers to propose investing more than $1 billion for state parks, which advocates said would create “a new golden age” for the park system. The funding would go to buying more land for the state parks system, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. — Alejandra Martinez