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Rep. Bailey reminds area voters of 19 constitutional amendments on ballot

Election Day is Tuesday, November 6,2001 for 19 proposed constitutional amendments. State Representative Kevin Bailey will be offering a series of articles in which be will briefly discuss some of the arguments for and against each of the proposed amendments.

State Representative Kevin Bailey urges area voters to become familiar with the proposed constitutional amendments before going to vote, it is easy to think that it doesn’t matter whether or not you vote in this election. The issues are difficult and you are just one person. But, isn’t that the point.

In Texas, we put a great deal of faith in our voters. Each and every Texan has the opportunity – the privilege – to vote on the merits of each idea. This series of articles will briefly discuss some of the issues you may want to consider before going to vote.

AMENDMENT NO. 1 may have voters getting out their history textbooks to vote on this proposition. Under a law dating to 1836, settlers had a right to survey land they wanted to claim or purchase, but the state retained all land not specifically claimed in those surveys. In 1981, 1991, and 1993, Texas voters amended the constitution to remedy title defects for certain landowners. These amendments allowed the GLO to issue patents – original titles to land granted by the state – to qualified applicants whose land titles were defective.

This amendment would relinquish the state’s claim to a tract of land that is 400 feet wide and about four miles long outside of Elgin. The 221-acre tract is among 741,000 acres of surveyed, unsold school land held in the General Land Office (GLO) “scrap file,” so called because it stores applications to buy “scraps” of land between existing surveys.

REASONS TO CONSIDER VOTING FOR THIS AMENDMENT – Proposition 1 is needed to clear the title to land held by innocent parties, resolve an inequity, and save the stare art expensive court fight. It would be a straightforward and fair way to resolve a complicated land dispute in which it is unclear whether landowners were aware they were occupying state land.

REASONS TO CONSIDER VOTING AGAINST THIS AMENDMENT – Texas voters should not have to judge individual land-title disputes. Such matters are best left to the courts. Rather than continue to clutter the Constitution with exceptions for a few individuals, an ongoing mechanism should be established to settle these matters.

AMENDMENT NO. 2 would allow the State to use general obligation bonds backed by the state’s credit to assist border area counties in constructing and maintaining access road projects to connect colonias to existing public roads. Colonias are rural residential subdivisions located in unincorporated areas of counties, typically consisting of substandard housing with few utilities and little or no infrastructure.

REASONS TO CONSIDER VOTING FOR THIS AMENDMENT – Proposition 2 would create a new state funding source to help provide much-needed access to and from colonias. Many colonias residents were victimized by unscrupulous developers who did not provide or arrange for basic services or adequate infrastructures. Although border counties have upgraded some roads, these counties do not have the resources to meet the huge infrastructure needs of colonias.
REASONS TO CONSIDER VOTING AGAINST THIS AMENDMENT – Borrowing money by issuing state bonds to pay for roads is and always will be a bad idea. Colonias are located on private property. Though regrettable, the conditions there are not state government’s responsibility. Taxpayers already have spent more than half a billion dollars (state and federal) through various state agencies over the past 12 years to address numerous problems associated with colonias. Building local access roads with borrowed state money, regardless of the circumstances, would set a bad precedent.

AMENDMENT NO.3 would allow the Legislature to exempt from ad valorem taxation raw cocoa and green coffee brought in through the Port of Houston. Under the Texas Constitution all tangible property, including inventories, held for the production of income is subject to ad valorem taxation unless specifically exempt under the Constitution. The Legislature could impose additional requirements for qualifying for the exemption.

REASONS TO CONSIDER VOTING FOR THIS AMENDMENT – Exempting coffee and cocoa Inventories from ad valorem taxation in Harris County would make the Port of Houston eligible to be designated an exchange port for coffee by the New York Board of Trade. The board has said it will not consider the county’s application unless coffee and cocoa are exempted from taxation. Although exempting coffee and cocoa from property taxes would decrease local tax revenue in the short term, Houston’s certification as a coffee port would spur long-term investment in local warehouse facilities, create jobs, and bring additional business to trucking and distribution companies across the state.

REASONS TO CONSIDER VOTING AGAINST THIS AMENDMENT – Exempting coffee and cocoa from ad valorem taxation would reduce tax revenue for local governments in Harris County. In addition, creating an exemption for a specific industry in a specific county would require other businesses and residential property owners in the county to bear more of the burden of funding public services, It also would set a bad precedent by encouraging other types of businesses to try to carve out similar exemptions for their benefit. Also, a tax exemption should not be granted to Harris County. Other ports in Texas share Houston’s proximity to coffee-growing regions and consumer markets.

AMENDMENT NO.4 would specify a four-year term for the fire fighters’ pension commissioner.

REASONS TO CONSIDER VOTING POR THIS AMENDMENT – The proposed change in the commissioner’s term from two years to four years would make the term coincide with that of the governor who appoints the commissioner and eliminates the cumbersome process of selecting a nominee and securing Senate confirmation every legislative session. The fire fighters’ pension commissioner administers the agency, and a longer term would help ensure continuity and experience in the position

REASONS TO CONSIDER VOTING AGAINST THIS AMENDMENT – The term of the fire fighters’ pension commissioner or of any other appointed office should not be set in the Constitution, which already is bloated with overly specific and constraining provisions. Other executive directors, including the insurance and health and human services commissioners, who have far more extensive responsibilities, face review by the governor and Senate every two years without significant disruption.

These four propositions are challenging issues to deal with and our constitution requires your vote on them. That is why they are on the ballot for November 6.

If you would like additional information on these and the other 15 proposed amendments, feel free to call the office of State Representative Kevin Bailey at 281-847-9000.