So tomorrow is Election Day. A lot of people don't bother to vote in elections that don't have national level implications, and that's too bad--in many ways, local level elections, like the one held tomorrow, are more important, or at least have more direct impact on our lives. However, voting in these types of elections is generally a lot harder, as information about them isn't as prevalent. It takes actual effort to find out about the candidates and ballot measures presented to us, rather than having had them shoved done our throats for several months beforehand. I don't know if this is a good thing, though it's certainly less irritating, since most people just don't want to spend the effort to show up at their polling places, much less educate themselves beforehand.
So...in the spirit of helping out my community (not that I think many Austinites actually read this blog, but you never know), I present a brief guide to tomorrow's election. I make no claims about being unbiased.
The following are proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution:
Proposition 1: Angelo State University Amendment
This measure changes Angelo State University from part of the Texas State University System to part of the Texas Tech University System. You can read the full text here. This is basically a "constitutional cleanup" amendment and doesn't seem to have any significant opposition. I'll vote for it.
Proposition 2: Student Loan Amendment
This amendment authorizes the Higher Education Coordinating Board to issue $500 million in general bond obligations to fund student loans. The full text is here. The pros and cons here are pretty clear: pro, affordable education; con, this program is supposed to be self-supporting, but if that doesn't work out, the state will be responsible for the money. My bias here is probably pretty obvious--I think the state of available financial aid is scandalous and new paths for students to get their educations are absolutely essential, so I'll be voting for this one.
Proposition 3: Home Appraisal Value Amendment
This amendment caps increases in appraised value of residences at 10% per year, regardless of the length of time since the last appraisal. Full text is here. The argument for the measure is that it would end "sticker shock" appraisals in which people's home values increase a huge amount when they haven't been appraised for a while. The argument against is that it would make appraisals more frequent and might be unnecessary. It seems unnecessary to me, and it smells like a way to get out of paying property taxes somehow, so unless I hear differently before tomorrow, I'll be voting against it.
Proposition 4: Maintenance, Construction Bonds Amendment
This one authorizes the state to issue up to $1 million in bonds to pay for maintenance, construction, and equipment. Full text here. The cons are the usual--unsupervised and possibly unnecessary spending. The pros are also typical--not deferring maintenance, making things like asbestos in state buildings go away. This also is intended to build a new facility for Texas Youth Commission. More than anything else on the ballot, this seems contentious to me, so I went to look for a list of who is supporting it and who isn't. Which of course I can't find, because compared to Oregon, Texas does a really lousy job of providing its voters with information. After digging around some, I came to the conclusion that this measure is more about building new prisons than it is updating state buildings and supporting state parks, so I'll probably be voting against it.
Proposition 5: Small City Downtown Property Amendment
This is an amendment to provide tax incentives to downtown revitalization projects in small towns. The full text is here. On the pro side, it would be good for city growth and revitalization, and likely tourism. On the con side, it would probably be an unfair tax policy favoring businesses. I don't see a big need for this, and I'm afraid it would end up helping big retailers like Wal-Mart, so I'll be voting against it.
Proposition 6: Motor Vehicle Exemption Amendment
This amendment provides a motor vehicle tax exemption for one vehicle per person used for both business and personal use. The full text is here. It is intended to help small businesspeople. Arguments against it are both that it doesn't go far enough (why just one vehicle?) and that vehicles should be taxed like any other property. It sort of falls under "I don't care" for me, so I'll likely vote against it.
Proposition 7: Eminent Domain Amendment
This one is kind of confusing. As best I can tell, what it does is allow property owners whose property has been acquired by the government by means of eminent domain laws to buy back their property for the same price that was paid to them if it is not used within 10 years for the reasons for which it was first acquired. The text is here. It is intended to "stop indiscriminate use of eminent domain" and treat property owners more fairly (currently they have to buy back at market rate, I guess). Cons are the ubiquitous "unnecessary legislation" and the claim that the property owner would get an unfair financial windfall by not paying market price. Eminent domain laws kind of make me itch. I think I'll probably vote for this.
Proposition 8: Home Equity Loans Amendment
This amendment is for "clarification" of existing home equity laws. One of the most important provisions is to waive the one-year requirement between home equity loan applications in the case of natural disaster. The full text is here. The pros are clear--cleaning up confusing language to protect homeowners, make provisions for disaster situations. The biggest con is that it may provide too little protection to homeowners. Seems to me that some is better than none, and the disaster stuff could be essential in the hurricane-prone parts of the state, so I'll vote for it.
Proposition 9: Disabled Vet Tax Amendment
This amendment allows for property tax relief for disabled veterans, at rates connected to their rates of disability. The full text is here. The benefits are that it allows disabled vets to keep their homes in situations where they might not otherwise be able to, and that it more evenly distributes this benefit by disability. The cons are that it is too expensive and that current exemptions are sufficient. I'm going to vote for it, as it seems to make current laws more fair, and I don't think that "there are going to be more disabled vets, so it will get too expensive" is very good logic.
Proposition 10: Inspector of Hides and Animals Amendment
Good Lord, what a title. This amendment is another constitutional clean up, removing references to the "Inspector of Hides and Animals." Full text is here. Since it's just clean up, there are no cons, I'll vote for it.
Proposition 11: Legislative Vote Records Amendment
This measure requires Texas legislatures to record their votes by name. Absolutely integral to legislative responsibility, in my opinion. Full text is here. I am so for this it isn't even funny.
Proposition 12: Highway Improvement Bonds Amendment
This is another general obligation bond one, for no more than $5 billion, to fund highway improvement. The full text is here. The pros are clear--yay safer highways! The cons also pretty clear--bad fiscal management, wrong source of revenue. I'll be voting against.
Proposition 13: Family Violence Amendment
This proposition authorizes denial of bail in certain family violence felony and misdemeanor cases, if the accused is thought to be a danger to his/her family or community. The full text is here. This is a victim protection measure, with the cons being the possibility of jail overcrowding and the infringement upon the rights of the accused. The basic literature left me torn, so I went looking for more, and found Texans Against Sexual Assault and the Texas Council of Family Affairs both support it, and that is has a Republican sponsor Joe Straus. The Chronicle is against it, as is the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. I am going to have to give some more thought to this one, but my hunch right now is that I will vote for it.
Proposition 14: Justice and Judge Mandatory Retirement Amendment
Currently, Texas judges have to retire at the age of 75. This changes the ruling so that if a judge turns 75 during his/her term, s/he serves until the end of the term, if it is a four-year term, of the end of the fourth year, if it's a six-year term. Full text is here. The pros are that judges would be allowed to complete the terms to which they are elected and the need for temporary replacement judges would be reduced. The cons are that it may undermine the reasoning for the mandatory retirement age in the first place, or that there shouldn't be one at all. Finishing out the term to which you were elected makes good sense to me, so I'll vote for it.
Proposition 15: Cancer Research Amendment
This is the only amendment for which I have seen much hype at all this year. It's supported by the Lance Armstrong Foundation and the Susan G. Komen Foundation, among others. It would establish the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas and authorize up to $3 billion in bonds to fund it. The full text is here. The pros are obvious--fighting cancer is good, and the center could be good for the economy. The cons are that it would cost too much and that Texans shouldn't bear the costs of it, and that there is no reason state money should focus exclusively on cancer. Overall, it seems like a good use of funds to me, I'll vote for it.
Proposition 16: Sewer and Water Supply Amendment
This amendment provides "economically distressed" areas of the state with financial assistance to create adequate water and sewer services. It would be funded by general obligation bonds not to exceed $250 million. The full text is here. Cons are the typical no spenders, pros are that the current funding is running out and this is necessary for public health. I'll vote for it.
If you need help finding your polling place, go here. Now vote!