WHAT'S NEW . . .
Texas Comptroller Susan Combs announced she will conduct a study of school district resource allocation practices. This study was mandated by House Bill 3, which was passed by the 81st Legislature in order to improve academic achievement and encourage more cost-effective operations. Read the Comptroller's press release.
The Comptroller's Office has also been working with the Texas Department of Transportation to encourage transparency in the agency. A new webpage, Where the Money Goes: Texas Department of Transportation, has been created to give public access to information about TxDOT projects and grants.
The Texas Lottery Commission reported that it was able to transfer $1 billion into the Foundation School Fund at the end of Fiscal Year 2009, which is $17 million more than reported in FY 2008. The Foundation School Fund supports public education in Texas.
The Texas Prepaid Higher Education Tuition Board recently notified contract holders of a change to the method for refunding unused tuition hours when a Texas Guaranteed Tuition Plan (formerly the Texas Tomorrow Fund) contract is cancelled or a refund is requested. Under new rules, anyone wanting to use the fund toward tuition and fees at a Texas school will still be covered, but those who want to cash out of the program will only receive the amount they paid into the fund, minus administrative fees. The changes were made to maintain the actuarial soundness of the fund and to protect taxpayers from providing a return beyond the intent of the prepaid tuition program, which was to simply guarantee the contract holder's payment for tuition and fees. The new rules were previously set to go into effect on November 1, but are now scheduled to go into effect on December 1. Contract holders deciding to withdraw their money from the fund in response to the new rules now have until November 30 to do so.
The Texas House Committee on Redistricting held their first interim hearing on September 30, 2009. By law, the Texas Legislature must redraw congressional and legislative districts every ten years. The redistricting process will occur in 2011, during the next regular session of the Legislature. This particular hearing was focused on the upcoming 2010 census as it relates to redistricting. The committee heard public testimony, as well as a presentation from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Residents and stakeholders along and near Garland Road are invited to take part in the creation of the "Garland Road Vision" (GRV). In conjunction with the City of Dallas and the North Central Texas Council of Governments, the GRV has contracted HOK Consultants to help develop a vision/study for the Garland Road corridor from the Dallas/Garland city limits at LBJ to the intersection with Gaston Avenue. The first meeting is scheduled to be a "listening session" and the public is invited to come and share thoughts and suggestions about the issues along the Garland Road corridor. This "come and go" session will be on Thursday, October 8, 2009, from 6:30-8:30pm in the Chapel at First Family Church, 10715 Garland Road, Dallas. For more information, visit the GRV website (http://garlandroadvision.org/).
FOCUS . . .
On Tuesday, November 3, 2009, you will have the opportunity to vote on 11 proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution. These measures were approved by a two-thirds vote in the Texas House and Senate earlier this year, but must have the consent of the people of Texas to become effective. During the 81st Legislative Session, I supported all of these measures, and I plan to vote for them in November as well. Following is a brief description of each proposition along with comments "for" and "against" for your consideration.
Amendment No. 1 (HJR 132)
This amendment would authorize the financing for municipalities and counties to acquire buffer areas or open spaces adjacent to a military installation.
- For - The amendment would protect military installations from further development that could encroach upon or restrict military training or missions. It would also promote further investment to protect and promote new military installations.
- Against - The bonds used in such projects could result in a higher tax burden on property owners.
Amendment No. 2 (HJR 36, Article 1)
This amendment would authorize the Legislature to provide for the valuation of a residence homestead based solely on its value as a homestead, eliminating consideration of the "highest and best use". The exemption would apply solely to a primary residence homestead.
- For - This amendment would protect homeowners that live in areas that are transitioning from a residential area to a commercial area by keeping property taxes down.
- Against - Because the proposed amendment would base ad valorem taxes solely on residential use, it would reduce the values of taxable property and therefore reduce local tax revenue. If these values decline, the school district's per-student taxable property value will also decline, and the state must then provide additional funding under the Foundation School Program's equalization formulas.
Amendment No. 3 (HJR 36, Article 3)
This amendment would provide for uniform standards and procedures for the appraisal of property for ad valorem tax purposes. The property tax has been solely a local tax and is primarily administered on the local level. However, the state does retain an interest in property tax appraisal professionalism and competence. This proposition would allow the Legislature to strengthen state oversight of appraisal district practices and procedures. Because the Legislature did not pass enabling legislation to implement this amendment, the Legislature would determine how to enact this amendment in a future legislative session.
- For - Tax appraisal processes vary widely across the state, and there is no state oversight to require an appraisal district to follow state law or apply a standard appraisal method. This amendment would allow for the state to implement a standard practice of tax appraisal processes and ensure state law is being enforced.
- Against - There is no known opposition at this time.
Amendment No. 4 (HJR 14, Article 2)
This amendment would enable the Legislature to dedicate state revenue, such as revenue now allocated to the Higher Education Fund, to the National Research University Fund's credit in an effort to establish additional nationally-recognized research universities.
- For - This amendment will help establish additional nationally prominent research universities. Because Texas only has two prominent research universities, the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University, it can only admit a limited number of qualified applicants. Establishing more universities of this stature would ensure Texas could keep its best students.
- Against - The proposed amendment should focus the state's resources on those universities that are the closest to attaining tier-one status.
Amendment No. 5 (HJR 36, Article 2)
This amendment would authorize the Legislature to allow two or more adjoining appraisal districts, if they elect to do so, to consolidate appraisal review board functions. This amendment is permissive, allowing for appraisal districts to adopt this system.
- For - The ability to consolidate appraisal review boards would benefit rural counties that have a limited number of qualified persons to serve on an appraisal review board.
- Against - The amendment should more comprehensively address district consolidation--not just the one aspect of appraisal review board consolidation.
Amendment No. 6 (HJR 116)
This amendment would authorize the Veterans' Land Board to provide for, issue and sell general obligation bonds of the state for the purpose of selling land to Texas veterans or providing them home or land mortgage loans. The proposed amendment would also remove the $500 million cap on bonds previously authorized for those purposes by prior constitutional amendments. This proposition would remove that requirement and allow the board to issue new bonds in place of those retired or redeemed.
- For - This amendment would give the Veterans' Land Board the sufficient bonding authority needed to continue the Veterans' Housing Assistance Program and Veterans' Land Program. The current constitutional provision requires the board to return to the Legislature and the voters every four years to secure bonding authority, which, to date, voters have never denied.
- Against - There is no known opposition at this time.
Amendment No. 7 (HJR 127)
This amendment would allow an officer or member of the Texas State Guard or other state militia or military force to hold other civil offices. There are a list of exceptions to the dual office holding prohibition, however, at the time the exceptions were written, the Texas State Guard or other state militia or military force were either overlooked or not in existence.
- For - The amendment is needed to allow a civil official to become active in the Texas State Guard or other state militia or military force.
- Against - There is no known opposition at this time.
Amendment No. 8 (HJR 7)
This amendment would authorize the state to contribute money, property and other resources for the establishment, maintenance and operation of hospitals for veterans in Texas.
- For - Texas currently lacks the authority to contribute to a veteran's hospital and this amendment would give the state the opportunity to improve existing veteran's facilities and establish new facilities.
- Against - There is no outright opposition to this amendment, however, there is some question that this is the best means to achieve the desired result.
Amendment No. 9 (HJR 102)
This amendment would protect the right of the public, collectively and individually, to access and use the public beaches bordering the seaward shore of the Gulf of Mexico.
- For - The amendment would strengthen the Texas Open Beaches Act by clarifying its intent to protect the public's right to access to public beaches. Putting this law in the Texas Constitution would protect it from future tampering. There has been recent dispute over the "rolling" beachfront easement, which authorizes the state to enforce the easement as natural changes occur in its location. The amendment would reduce litigation by clarifying the law's intent to keep beaches public.
- Against - The effect of Hurricane Ike was that the surge moved the line of vegetation, leaving homes, which were previously on private land, on the public beach. The state is currently authorized to require private property owners whose houses now stand on a public beach because of erosion and storm damage to remove the structures from that land. The amendment would make this law more difficult to change in the future and restrict property owners' rights to enjoy their property.
Amendment No. 10 (HJR 85)
This amendment would limit elected members of the governing boards of emergency services districts to terms that would not exceed four years.
- For - Currently, emergency services district commissioners are required to run for re-election every two years, which offers little continuity and experience. Requiring commissioners to run for election and then re-election every two years detracts from the work of the district and could politicize the office.
- Against - Emergency services districts are responsible for critical services and have broad power and the authority to levy taxes. The proposed amendment would weaken the accountability voters hold over commissioners.
Amendment No. 11 (HJR 14, Article 1)
This amendment would prohibit the taking of property for certain economic development or enhancement of tax revenue purposes and limit the Legislature's authority to grant the power of eminent domain to an entity.
- For - The amendment would enhance property protections by specifying that "public use" excludes the taking of property for the primary purpose of economic development or enhancement of tax revenue.
- Against - Most eminent domain problems have been addressed in statute, and putting this in the Texas Constitution would make the proposed changes permanent that could result in unintended effects that could impede legitimate eminent domain projects.
The House Research Organization and the Texas Legislative Council have provided more detailed information on the proposed constitutional amendments. These expanded analyses can be accessed at the following websites:
Election day is November 3, 2009 and the deadline to register to vote is October 5. You can find out whether or not you are registered to vote at https://team.sos.state.tx.us/voterws/viw/faces/SearchSelectionVoter.jsp or at the Secretary of State's voter hotline: 1-800-252-VOTE(8683). In Dallas County you can visit the Elections Department at www.dalcoelections.org or call 214-637-7937.
DID YOU KNOW . . . ?
October is Texas Archaeology Month (TAM). There will be a variety of activities around Texas to promote TAM, such as archaeology fairs, mock digs and rock art replication. Click here to view a calendar of TAM events.
The Texas Education Agency website offers information on Texas school districts, such as test scores, financial audits, and demographic profiles. To learn more about your school district, you can visit www.tea.state.tx.us.
STUDENT OPPORTUNITIES . . .
The Texas Commission for the Arts is accepting applications for the Young Masters Grant Program. This program awards grants up to $2,500 per year to talented young artists to further their studies in their chosen field. Eligible students must be participating in a school-based arts program, summer institute, specialized course of study, or receiving private lessons from a qualified instructor. Students also must maintain passing grades in all academic areas.
The deadline for applications is November 15, 2009. For more detailed information, please visit the webpage for the Young Masters Grant Program.
IN CLOSING . . .
I hope you have an opportunity to visit the State Fair of Texas (http://www.bigtex.com/), now through October 18th, to enjoy a traditional corny dog and some great "state fair weather." While you are there, be sure to visit the Comptroller's exhibit in the Grand Place Building (near Big Tex) to see if you have any unclaimed property.
State Senator - District 16
|P.O. Box 12068|
Austin, TX 78711
|8080 N. Central Expy.
Suite 1440, LB 44
Dallas, TX 75206
|5401 N. Central Expy.
Dallas, TX 75205