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Another look at 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, Amendments 4, 5 and 6 are previewed in today’s edition, with the remainder set for publication on 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. 4 (H.J.R. 14, Article 2) — Establishing the national research university fund to enable emerging research universities in this state to achieve national prominence as major research universities and transferring the balance of the higher education fund to the national research university fund.

Analysis — This amendment would set up a fund for the purpose of providing funding for state research universities in Texas to achieve national prominence as major research universities.

The University of Texas and Texas A&M University would be excluded from being eligible for grants from this fund. The amendment would close down the Higher Education Fund (HEF) currently in existence and move the money to the new fund.

The HEF was created with the intent of establishing a corpus of $2 million with proceeds in excess of that amount to be provided to eligible universities as appropriations for acquiring land, constructing or equipping buildings, conducting major repairs or rehabs on buildings and other permanent improvements or acquiring capital equipment, library books and library materials.

The amendment that created the HEF required that once the fund reached $2 million, the fund would be self supporting and the state would not be able to fund any additional tax dollars to it. It was intended for the income from the HEF to replace the current state funding made to universities for the items listed above.

Conclusion — A vote against this is required. Currently we have a fund in place, that once funded, will pay for itself and not take additional tax dollars from the taxpayer. It is to provide for the acquisition and care of the state university’s permanent facilities.

This amendment will remove the fund and allocate the money to something all together different than what was passed by the taxpayers back in 1984.

In addition, all caps to the amount of money the state will fund the new program will be removed.

As taxpayers we will be funding the new program and funding the entire capital requirements needed by the state universities, which currently should be funded by the HEF.

I can’t tell what happened to the money from the HEF that has been funded in the past and did not take the time to research it. However, based on the background described in the report, pretty close to $2 billion has been sent to the fund and currently there is only about $475 million in the fund.

I do not know why the money is not there or how it was spent when it was supposed to sit and grow, but I WILL NOT vote to give the state unlimited access to money to continue down this road.

Amendment No. 5 (H.J.R. 36, Article 2) — Authorizing the legislature to authorize a single board of equalization for two or more adjoining appraisal entities that elect to provide for consolidated equalizations.

Analysis — Currently Texas law allows two or more counties to elect to consolidate appraisal services and allows the board of directors of two or more districts to consolidate their appraisal operations should they chose to do so.

However, there are State appraisal districts which are set up based on county boundaries and the appraisal districts territory is limited to the county borders.

This amendment would allow two or more adjoining appraisal districts to consolidate their review board functions, should they opt to do so.
Conclusion — I will vote for this amendment.

Appraisal districts are allowed to combine their review boards, if they wish, but are not required to do so. The local appraisal districts will be allowed to make this determination.

There will be no change in law, only in the review and administration of the current law.

Amendment No. 6 (H.J.R. 116) — Authorizing the Veterans’ Land Board to issue general obligation bonds in amounts equal to or less than amounts previously authorized.

Analysis — This amendment will allow the Veterans’ Land Board the ability to issue bonds in place of already issued bonds and then retire the outstanding bonds as long as the total amount of outstanding bonds does not exceed the total amount of bonds authorized by the legislature, and the voters, in previous constitutional amendments and will allow them to do so without seeking the approval of the legislature or voters.

Conclusion — I would normally be opposed to a government entity being able to conduct business on this large of a scale without voter oversight or approval.

However, the amendment does provide that the board can not issue bonds or spend money in excess of the amounts previously approved by the taxpayers or the legislature. Because the money is used to help veterans, who deserve to be provided help by the government for which they served, and because limits are placed on the amount of money the government can spend without taxpayer approval, I will vote for this amendment.

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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