EDITORIAL: Our take on Proposition 5 and other proposed constitutional amendments

By October 22, 2019October 24th, 2019News

October 22, 2019
Waco Tribune-Herald

In budgeting, it’s always smart to avoid employing taxes whose revenue is rigidly dedicated to a specific purpose. Such taxes can constrain spending in pressing areas, especially in a crisis such as an economic downtown or a natural disaster of the devastating scope of Hurricane Harvey. However, if state leaders do peddle taxes such as the sales tax on sporting goods — touted years ago as benefiting the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and Texas Historical Commission — then they should rigorously abide by those public assurances.

Alas, state officials have not kept the faith regarding the sporting goods tax.

With exception of the past two legislative sessions, most money from this tax has been used for other purposes, primarily balancing the state budget. The Texas Coalition for State Parks, formed to push passage of Proposition 5 now at the polls, says that from 1993 to 2017 the state collected some $2.5 billion in revenue from the sporting goods sales tax — yet only 40 percent actually benefited state parks.

Under such circumstances, state park officials find it all but impossible to plan for long-term capital improvements and development of new parks, some still waiting to be opened such as Palo Pinto State Park. Park officials never know how much money they’re getting from a tax supposedly created to benefit parks and historical sites.

Reports indicate state parks collectively face an estimated $800 million backlog in maintenance needs. Eighty percent of our parks were founded more than 30 years ago and Hurricane Harvey alone did $50 million in destruction to them. It’s important to note the key role state parks play not only in wildlife habitat and conservation but the state economy through hunting, fishing and tourism. Voting for Proposition 5 doesn’t mean new taxes, only ensuring existing taxes touted to the public as benefiting state parks and historical sites actually do so. We urge its passage.

Our position on other amendments on the Nov. 5 ballot:

Proposition 1: Yes. This amendment would allow municipal judges to hold more than one paid public office at a time, so they could preside over multiple municipalities, a boon to less-populated communities. While we appreciate the unique challenges faced by rural communities where it’s not always easy to attract properly trained officials, successful implementation of this amendment would nonetheless count on local officials ensuring a municipal judge from another community is sensitive to local dynamics and relevant situations that might impact how justice is best administered.

Proposition 2: Yes. Passage of this proposition would allow the Texas Water Development Board to issue general obligation bonds not to exceed $200 million to develop water and sewer projects in economically depressed areas of the state. With continued population growth, increasing industry demands and aging infrastructure, water remains a key challenge for Texas.

Proposition 3: Yes. Passage of this amendment would allow a temporary property-tax exemption on a portion of one’s property after formal declaration of a disaster by the governor. With the increasing devastation of droughts and storms in Texas, this is a step in the right direction. That said, one sees potential problems if the disaster strikes after the local tax rate has been set for the year versus before; protocols differ and are more complicated under the former scenario.

Proposition 4: No. Passage of this silly amendment would require a two-thirds vote of the Texas House and Senate, rather than a simple majority, before voters could decide whether the time is right for a personal income tax in Texas. This is political pandering of the worst sort, given it’s already nearly impossible to create a state income tax without voter approval. Plus, given legislative discussions about eliminating the much-hated property tax on daily school operations, approving this amendment could have the unintended consequence of eliminating viable options. Think twice, fellow taxpayer!

Proposition 6: Yes. Passage of this would hike the maximum bond amount for the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, which provides grants that advance cancer research, from $3 billion to $6 billion. Some argue the state has no business involved in cancer research, but given the huge cost of health care to taxpayers and the economic benefit such scientific research can yield in creating high-tech jobs across Texas, we see it as an investment with many dividends. The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas is the second largest public source of cancer funding in the United States after the federal government.

Proposition 7: Yes. Proposition 7 would double to $600 million the amount that can be transferred from the Permanent School Fund — an endowment trust that holds the fund’s investment returns and proceeds from state land and mineral rights — to the Available School Fund. This is in-the-weeds, procedural policy that nonetheless boosts educational funding. While we expect our state legislators to spend more time scrutinizing the School Land Board’s investments, the amendment offers a way to increase funding for public education without raising taxes.

Proposition 8: Yes. This constitutional amendment would allow a one-time allotment from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to create the Flood Infrastructure Fund, which the Texas Water Development Board would administer to fund and maintain flood-control structures across Texas, particularly in economically distressed areas. Given that climate-change evidence suggests we’ll see more flooding (whatever the cause), it’s far smarter to make a stab at preventing or reducing flooding than simply assuming steep recovery costs and much heartbreak.

Proposition 9: No. Here’s a questionable amendment that would exempt from property taxation precious metals held in a precious metal depository in Texas. We question the timing of this given that, as we noted with Proposition 4, conservative legislators contemplate overhauling property taxes. Additionally, this strikes us as a case of the state’s picking winners and losers in that it shows bias for precious metals over other investments and economic choices. Is there even a property tax on gold?

Proposition 10: Yes, of course. This allows for “transfer of a law enforcement animal to a qualified caretaker in certain circumstances,” such as when such an animal retires. We’ve heard or read absolutely no arguments against this constitutional amendment other than utter astonishment voters even have to approve such a common-sense policy to the bloated, amendment-entangled Texas Constitution. Our only question: Whether this or Proposition 4 will garner more votes of approval on Nov. 5

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