Constitutional Election Amendments

Published Brownsville Herald October 28, 2007 

Many of you may not know that there is an election going on and in fact early voting began on Monday. There are sixteen amendments to the Texas State Constitution being considered, five of which authorize the state to borrow money by issuing bonds and it guarantees that the “first money coming into the treasury each fiscal year” will be used to pay the interest and principal.  The fact that these actions require approval by the entire electorate of the State and will become a permanent part of the state Constitution, make them very important. The fact that these actions are being presented at a time of historically low or less than low voter turnout makes them very suspect. 

Additionally, a quick reading of the ballot description identified several that showed little resemblance to the actual wording of the resolutions. Bond issues are the taking out of a mortgage that must be paid back with interest over a period of many years in the future which obligates the state and future governments to limit what actions they can take because the money has already been spent. If you think of it in terms of how we live, it is like a mortgage on your house. Such a loan should only be used to purchase a real, definable asset that would be expected to hold its value until the loan has been paid off. Then if something goes wrong with the economy and income, the asset could be sold or used for another purpose. Credit advisors and bankers often advise not to borrow to cover recurring expenses that should be paid for by normal income. 

Amendments 2, 4, 12, 15 and 16 relate to a Constitutional authorization of bond issues. The ballot description for Amendment number 2 is as follows: “The constitutional amendment providing for the issuance of $500 million in general obligation bonds to finance educational loans to students and authorizing bond enhancement agreements with respect to general obligation bonds issued for that purpose.” The actual purpose is to authorize the issuance of $500 million in bonds in addition to the amount already issued and provides that the state may also invest the proceeds because it is thought that they will be necessary to provide loans for all who want them. 

It is claimed by the State that the Hinson-Hazelwood College Student Loan Program is successful and bond issues used to fund the program in the past have not required the support of tax money. On the other hand the debt of college students at graduation has been increasing and could lead to a big money pit. Also in my mind is the lack of confidence that I have in the current legislature which is aggravated by the timing of this election. Since the legislature felt no need to detail how successful the history of the loan program has been and how much of residual uncollected debt there is currently on the books, I must recommend a vote against it because of the risk of higher taxes, even though I personally like the use for which the money id intended. The legislature can bring the issue back up in the next, more popular, election period after providing more public information that can be checked. Amendment 4 will be described on the ballot as “The constitutional amendment authorizing the issuance of up to $1 billion in bonds payable from the general revenues of the state for maintenance, improvement, repair, and construction projects and for the purchase of needed equipment.” The details of the resolution nor the discussion presented by the state with the proposals in public information do not indicate what money and how much is being spent for what. It certainly does not seem that the bond will pay for any specific asset but makes general assertions the it provides money for deferred maintenance and asbestos abatement generally, for courthouse renovations and historic sites, for state mental health hospitals, for maintenance at readiness centers for emergency response, for repairs and maintenance at the National Guard’s Camp Mabry, for new state prison facilities and repair and rehabilitation of existing facilities, for a new regional office and crime lab in Lubbock, for construction of a new facility and at existing facilities of the Texas Youth Commission, and for the Parks and Wildlife Department for the Battleship Texas among other things. 

The effect of this is that this legislature is deciding for the future legislatures that they must pay for these things down the road because this legislature thinks it is needed today. It seems that to take out such a big loan to saddle the future with for things that should be paid for out of current funds or from other sources is wrong. I suspect that the worthiness of many of the projects if fully described in a more open forum would secure a resounding defeat. I cannot vote for such a blatant attempt to balance a current budget on the backs of the future. The ballot for Amendment number 12 is described: “The constitutional amendment providing for the issuance of general obligation bonds by the Texas Transportation Commission in an amount not to exceed $5 billion to provide funding for highway improvement projects.” As recent as 2003 a Constitutional Amendment authorized the issuance of bonds financed by the State highway fund now the legislature is again asking for a new source of money for unspecified projects to be paid for by future revenues. Historically the state has worked on a pay as you go system until 2001. There is an indication this is a method of moving forward on the toll roads while the moratorium is in place in two years. This is merely a way of balancing the current budget on the hopes of the future when no one is looking. I am voting against this one. 

“The constitutional amendment requiring the creation of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas and authorizing the issuance of up to $3 billion in bonds payable from the general revenues of the state for research in Texas to find the causes of and cures for cancer.” as the ballot is described in Amendment number 15 is a very emotion laden way of creating a new bureaucracy appointed by the Governor to control handouts to other entities and research institutions. Our forefathers were especially intuitive when they provided that the creation of state debt is generally prohibited by Section 49, Article III, Texas Constitution. I have to believe that this is just a political ploy by the Austin politicos to use such an issue to polarize the elites against ‘the folks” who just don’t understand. In a presentation given by members of Representative Lucio III staff one of the biggest reasons they gave for its importance was not that it would end Cancer tomorrow but that Texas would be the first State to do something like this. 

That kind of importance is lost on me. I cannot support obligating our children with more and more debt to be the first to have a new bureaucracy that will cost $1.6B in interest. Why not use that money if we have it, to solve a current problem. Cancer is a worldwide problem and is the focus of the very best of the best professionals around the world. Groups like the American Cancer Society are much more equipped to focus resources than any political bureaucracy whose goals may not always be altruistic. Amendment 16 is described on the ballot as” The constitutional amendment providing for the issuance of additional general obligation bonds by the Texas Water Development Board in an amount not to exceed $250 million to provide assistance to economically distressed areas.” This issue just as with amendment number 2 is a particularly difficult issue for me to consider in a purely analytical  light. The Water Development Board is running short of funds and federal funding for helping the colonias secure water and waste water facilities. I know personally a family that acquired misrepresented property where the developers promised those things, only to find out differently later and shared their anguish when seeking redress. I also saw the happiness when services were finally secured. More than $500 million has already been spent, but communities continue to grow where there are no services and the cost of providing those services is prohibitive if possible at all. The developers take advantage of the overpowering drive for the “home of your own” a big part of the “American Dream”. If the program continues the cycle will continue and the poor will continue to be used by the unscrupulous. My heart tells me to support the resolution but I will vote against it because I cannot justify giving the politicos another hand out to gain more power while our children pay for it. 

Other than the bond issues my analysis suggested that the following choices; voting in support of Amendments 7, 9,10, 11, 13,14, Voting against Amendment 5 which gives an unfair benefit to downtown property owners at a cost to those that own elsewhere. In the case of Amendments of 1, 3, 6, and 8, appear to be just adjusting existing rules and will make my final judgments as I walk into the booth. 

I urge you all to get out and vote; if you don’t like my point of view SHOW ME by voting against my recommendations – but go vote. 

One Comment

  1. I voted at about 5 p.m. yesterday, and I was only voter No. 62.