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A look at proposed amendments

Editor’s note: Ennis resident Mike Williamson, Sr. wrote the following column previewing next week’s constitutional amendments at the request of the Ennis Daily News. With 11 constitutional amendments on the ballot, the first three are previewed in today’s edition, with the remainder set for publication on Friday and Sunday. These views do not represent an endorsement for or against any amendments by the Ennis Daily News.
On Nov. 3, elections will be held to vote on 11 Texas Constitutional Amendments. I have reviewed the proposed amendments and I am writing this article to help voters try to determine what the issues are and whether or not they should be supported.

I would encourage all readers to obtain an understanding of the proposed legislations and to take the time to cast their votes for or against them. In compliance with state laws, the Texas Legislative Council provided a professional, nonpartisan analysis of the amendments that are to be voted on.

My analysis of these amendments was based on a review of the report provided by the TLC and was done with a good faith effort to understand the issues as represented by the TLC.

The reader should understand, there can be more than one way for the report and amendments to be interpreted.

My conclusions have been drawn based on my interpretation of the proposed amendments and I will endeavor to include my conclusions in my analysis in order to provide the readers an opportunity to distinguish why their conclusion may differ from mine, should they chose to review the report themselves. The report can be found at www.tlc.state.tx.us/pubsconamend/pubsconamend.html.

Amendment No. 1 (H.J.R. 132) — Authorizes the financing, including through tax increment financing, of the acquisition by municipalities and counties of buffer areas or open spaces adjacent to a military installation for the prevention of encroachment or for the construction of roadways, utilities or other infrastructure to protect or promote the mission of the military installation.

Analysis: Supporters contend that military installations should be protected from encroaching development that could restrict training and operational missions. Opponents contend that this could result in a higher tax burden on already distressed property owners.

The acquisition of the property for buffer areas appears to be left at the local level (municipalities and counties).

However, the Legislature did not pass the laws necessary to authorize the issuance of the notes or bonds needed for the acquisition of these buffer zones.

This legislation would need to be put in place should this amendment pass.

Conclusion: I agree the military bases need room to operate and
deserve our support. The military function IS one of the defined functions the government is authorized to provide for. However, I will vote against this amendment.

I will do so mainly because it appears that the state’s passage of this amendment will be all that is needed for the local municipalities to set up bonds and make acquisitions, which would then increase local taxes without local taxpayers approving the increase.

I would be more inclined to be for the amendment if I knew that local governments would have to provide local tax payers a right to vote for or against individual acquisitions, or groups of acquisitions, prior to the issuance of the bond.

Absent this knowledge, I am not willing to let local authorities make blanket decisions without local taxpayer involvement in the specific acquisitions.

The report was not clear enough to give me the comfort level I would like to have in order to vote for this amendment.

Amendment No. 2 (H.J.R. 36, Article 1) — Authorizing the legislature to provide for the ad valorem taxation of a residence homestead solely on the basis of the property’s value as a residence homestead.

Analysis: As a general rule, property valuations are set to determine the fair market value of a property by considering its “highest and best use.” Because of this, the value of a homesteaded property can increase simply because a developer comes in and develops the property around the homeowner.

Supporters of this amendment claim restrictions to value increase already apply to agricultural and open-space land and should similarly protect residence homesteads. This legislation would only apply to homesteaded residences and not to second home or investment properties.

Opponents counter that homestead values will decrease causing school districts property values to decline and the state would need to provide additional funding under the states equalization formulas.
Conclusion: I will vote against this amendment as well. Local
authorities and local taxpayers need to decide on how their properties will be taxed and how their local taxing districts will be funded. This is primarily a school funding issue for the state, which I will address in my conclusion to the next amendment.

Amendment No. 3 (H.J.R. 36, Article 3) — Providing for uniform standards and procedures for the appraisal of property for ad valorem tax purposes.

Analysis: Since 1982, the property tax in Texas has been solely a local matter. However, the State has an interest because it allocates funding to public schools based on the per-student aggregate taxable property value.

The State has not yet determined how they would oversee the local appraisal districts practices and procedures, and, accordingly, determine tax collection practices, should this amendment pass.

Legislation would have to be put in place upon the passage of this amendment to make those determinations.

Conclusion: Once again, I will vote against.

There is no telling what the legislation will look like if this amendment is passed and what other forms of legislation would be attached to it.

If the state is truly serious about addressing issues relating to the costs of education they will pass legislation allowing for a voucher system which will increase school competition, cut costs and provide for better education of students.

Until then, they are not serious about related school costs and I will not vote for any legislation or amendment which will allow them to maintain they are doing something about it, when in fact they are doing nothing.

Mike Williamson Sr. is a freelance correspondent with the Ennis Daily News. To contact him, e-mail him at mike@ennisdailynews.com.

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