Texas Is Set To Amend Its Constitution, Again

So far, this election has seen the highest early-voter turnout in nearly a decade.

By Lana StraubNovember 3, 2015 8:30 am| , ,

This story originally appeared on West Texas Public Radio

On Tuesday, November 3, Texans will go to the ballot box to vote on seven more amendments to the Texas Constitution, which is unlike any other state constitution. Currently there are more than 450 amendments and this Election Day, state legislators are asking you to vote on seven more.

Amendments 1, 6 and 7 have been hotly debated since they were born in the legislature.

Amendment 1 would give homeowners an additional $15,000 in property tax exemption. At his Odessa Office, Representative Brooks Landgraf, of House District 11, says that would be a good thing.

“One issue that Texans all over the state really brought to the forefront was how high property taxes on their homes are going up and how that has been a trend in recent years,” Ladgraf says. “What this proposition does is curtail that to a degree by offsetting increases in property tax valuations and increases in tax rates, so that tax payers will pay an overall smaller tax bill on their local property taxes.”

But Senator José Rodríguez, who represents Senate District 29, has mixed feelings.

“Yes and no. It is still going to detract, that is take away money from public schools, for example,” Rodríguez says. “I think it’s about a $2.1 million deal. I think that’s money that could have been used for schools. On the other hand I do appreciate the tax relief that homeowners have, particularly in my district where the tax basis are low and the tax burden is high.”

Amendment 6 codifies the rights of Texans to hunt and fish as a means to harvest wildlife. Coming from a longtime ranching family, Representative Landgraf – a Republican – agrees with the proposal.

“I would classify this as a preemptive measure. Because we’ve seen what’s going on in other states, particularly in the Western United States. Any effort that those folks try to undertake here in Texas, this is just a means for them to bypass us you know to try their hand somewhere else,” Landgraf says. “We basically want to send the message that here in Texas we appreciate our rights to hunt and fish, it’s our culture, it’s a part of who we are, it’s a family tradition in a lot of cases and that’s not something we’re willing to relinquish.”

Senator Rodríguez – a Democrat – is against Amendment 6.

“I’m opposed to it. I’m opposed to it for two reasons. One, I don’t think that belongs in the Texas constitution, that is just asking for too much,” Rodríguez says. “If you want to make any changes to that in the future, you have to make an amendment to the Texas constitution. Secondly, my understanding of that when we had the debate is that it would give gun owners and fishermen preference for wildlife conservation, and I don’t think that those are the best methods necessarily for wildlife conservation, so I’m opposed to that one.”

Amendment 7 tackles the funding of a hotly contested issue around the state – transportation.

Here’s Landgraf’s take on the measure: “This is a way for us to invest in our highway infrastructure. You don’t have to drive very out here in West Texas to understand that we have a very significant problem with our highway infrastructure. The roads are deteriorating at a very fast rate. It’s a very dangerous condition just to be driving out on our highways, particularly our rural highways out here in West Texas. The $4 billion that we’re looking to add will help to maintain what we presently have.”

Rodriguez supports the amendment as well. But the money set aside for it? He believes it probably won’t be enough.

“The estimates from the A&M institute for transportation, a think tank on transportation, was that it would take $5-6 billion  just to maintain the current road system,” Rodríguez says. This amount of money coupled with the amount that we got last time that the voters voted will add up to $4.5 to 5 billion dollars, which just barely meets the needs of the maintenance of current roads. It’s not necessarily for new roads. So we need to do something as a state to take care of our infrastructure.”

Voter turnout is usually low for amendment elections. But this year, early voter numbers are the highest they have been in a decade, with more than five percent of Texas voters casting ballots.

On Tuesday, polling places will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.