Constitutional Amendment Election Information
(AUSTIN) - This week, I will continue with the analysis of proposed constitutional amendments. The election will be held on September 13, and Texans will vote on 22 proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution. This article focuses on amendments 19-22. The analyses contained in these articles come from the Texas Legislative Council's "Condensed Analysis of Proposed Constitutional Amendments." To view the entire document, please visit their website at www.tlc.state.tx.us, or feel free to contact my office for a hard copy.
AMENDMENT NO. 19
The constitutional amendment to repeal the authority of the legislature to provide for the creation of rural fire prevention districts.
SUMMARY: The proposed amendment would repeal Section 48-d, Article III, Texas Constitution. That section authorizes the legislature to create rural fire prevention districts supported by a tax on property located in the district.
ARGUMENTS FOR: Rural fire prevention districts have been struggling to provide services under the decades-old three-cent cap on property taxes imposed under the state constitution. In contrast, the constitutional cap on property tax rates in emergency services districts is 10 cents. An emergency services district also has statutory authority to impose a limited sales and use tax and may use its tax revenue not only for fire prevention services in rural areas, but also for related emergency services. Thus, emergency services districts have greater financial flexibility to meet the changing needs of rural communities for fire prevention and other emergency services. Since all rural fire prevention districts are converted to emergency services districts on September 1, 2003, and the statute providing for rural fire prevention districts is repealed at that time, the amendment would clean up the state constitution by removing a provision that the legislature has determined is no longer useful.
ARGUMENTS AGAINST: There is no compelling reason to amend the state constitution to repeal the legislature's authority to create rural fire prevention districts. The legislation that converts existing rural fire prevention districts into emergency services districts is not contingent on passage of the amendment. The state constitution explicitly provides two options for fire prevention services in rural areas: rural fire prevention districts supported by a property tax at a rate of not more than three cents for each $100 of valuation, and emergency services districts supported by a property tax at a rate of not more than 10 cents for each $100 of valuation. The constitution should maintain the flexibility it currently offers to rural communities to provide fire prevention services under the lower rate cap.
AMENDMENT NO. 20
The constitutional amendment authorizing the issuance of general obligation bonds or notes not to exceed $250 million payable from the general revenues of the state to provide loans to defense-related communities, that will be repaid by the defense-related community, for economic development projects, including projects that enhance the military value of military installations.
SUMMARY: The proposed amendment would add Section 49-n to Article III of the Texas Constitution and permit the legislature to authorize one or more state agencies to issue general obligation bonds or notes in an aggregate amount not to exceed $250 million to provide loans to defense-related communities for economic development projects that benefit the defense-related community, including projects that enhance the military value of military installations located in the state. The amendment would authorize the bond proceeds to be deposited in the Texas military value revolving loan account in the state treasury.
ARGUMENTS FOR: The Texas military value revolving loan account would assist local communities in financing projects that would enhance the military value of nearby military installations. Enhancing this value is important because the United States Department of Defense will undergo another round of base realignment and closure in 2005. The military installations located in this state and defense-related businesses are vital to the economy, and improving the military value of Texas military installations will increase the likelihood that such installations will not be closed during the base realignment and closure process. Local communities could borrow money from the Texas military value revolving loan account at a lower rate than the community could borrow money from other sources and, without the resulting cost savings, might not be able to afford to complete projects necessary to enhance the value of nearby military installations.
ARGUMENTS AGAINST: The Department of Defense desires to close expensive, unnecessary defense bases, and it does not make sense to spend state money to keep bases that are not needed. Furthermore, the expenditures will not guarantee that the federal government will decide to keep the bases open. At a time when the state is facing increasing needs for services in all areas and state revenues are being strained to meet those needs, the approval of an additional amount of bonds for financing projects that increase the military value of federal military installations does not appear to be practical or necessary.
AMENDMENT NO. 21
The constitutional amendment to permit a current or retired faculty member of a public college or university to receive compensation for service on the governing body of a water district.
SUMMARY: The proposed amendment amends Section 40(b), Article XVI, Texas Constitution, to permit a faculty member or retired faculty member of a public institution of higher education who also serves as a member of the governing body of a water district created under Section 59, Article XVI, or Section 52, Article III, Texas Constitution, to receive a salary for that service.
ARGUMENTS FOR: The proposed amendment would eliminate an antiquated and unnecessary restriction on additional public service by public college and university faculty members. The law currently does not prohibit that service, but discourages it by prohibiting a salary for it, and there is no such salary prohibition applicable to other persons holding full-time jobs, such as federal or private-sector employees. Approval of the amendment would encourage valuable public service by faculty members and greatly increase the pool of qualified persons able to serve on the governing bodies of the state's hundreds of water districts. The proposed amendment is properly limited to very narrow circumstances. Public college and university faculty members, unlike most other state employees, have more flexible hours and can more easily schedule outside duties in conjunction with their primary jobs. In addition, the exception applies only to water districts, which have limited functions.
ARGUMENTS AGAINST: The existing constitutional prohibition against a state employee receiving a salary for serving on the governing body of a political subdivision is intended to ensure that the state employee is committed first and foremost to his or her public employment. If service on the governing body of a water district is a salaried position, the duties of that position are probably substantial enough to potentially interfere with the duties of the faculty member and could potentially reduce the member's commitment to faculty responsibilities. While faculty members of public colleges and universities are able to provide valuable service to local governments because of their valuable skills, knowledge, and experience, other state employees are also well qualified to provide such service and frequently do so without additional compensation. There is no reason to single out faculty members for the special treatment that would become available under the proposed amendment. The inclusion of retired faculty members in the proposed amendment implies that other retired state employees are not entitled to receive a salary for serving on a local governing body. If that interpretation is adopted by the courts, the proposed amendment will actually discourage public service on local governing bodies by thousands of well-qualified state retirees.
AMENDMENT NO. 22
The constitutional amendment authorizing the appointment of a temporary replacement officer to fill a vacancy created when a public officer enters active duty in the United States armed forces.
SUMMARY: The proposed amendment would add Section 72 to Article XVI of the Texas Constitution to: (1) allow an elected or appointed officer of the state or of any political subdivision who enters active duty in the armed forces of the United States as a result of being called to duty, drafted, or activated, to retain the person's office while serving in the military; and (2) allow a temporary acting officer to be appointed to perform all the duties of the office. Under the amendment, for an officer other than a member of the legislature, the authority who has the power to appoint a person to fill a vacancy in the office would appoint the temporary acting officer. If a vacancy in the office would normally be filled by a special election, the governor would appoint the temporary acting officer for a state or district office and the governing body of a political subdivision such as a city or county would appoint the temporary acting officer for an office of that political subdivision. For an officer who is a member of the legislature, the amendment authorizes the member of the legislature to appoint a temporary acting representative or senator, subject to approval of the selection by a majority vote of the appropriate house of the legislature.
ARGUMENTS FOR: The proposed amendment is necessary to clarify that an elected or appointed officer of the state or a political subdivision does not vacate the person's office when the officer is called to active military duty. Authorizing the appointment of a temporary acting officer would allow for the needs of constituents to continue being served during the officer's temporary leave of absence. State law provides that an employee of the state or of a local governmental entity who leaves employment to enter active military service is entitled to reemployment after the employee completes active military service. Officers of the state or a political subdivision should receive the same benefit after taking a temporary leave of absence to defend the state or nation as a member of the military, and allowing an officer to return to office after completing active military service will encourage public officers to maintain their involvement in the national guard or reserves.
ARGUMENTS AGAINST: Authorizing the governor or the governing body of a political subdivision to appoint a temporary replacement for an elected officer deprives the citizens of this state of the right to select the individuals who will represent them. Allowing an officer of the state or of a political subdivision to return to office after the individual completes temporary active duty in the military creates inefficiency in the operation of the office because there is no definite length of time the officer may be away on active duty. Without having a definite term of office, fewer qualified individuals will agree to serve as a temporary replacement officer.
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