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Taxes, state parks, infrastructure: What you need to know about the Nov. 7 constitutional amendments election

By María Méndez, Yuriko Schumacher and Texas Tribune Staff, The Texas Tribune

Taxes, state parks, infrastructure: What you need to know about the Nov. 7 constitutional amendments election” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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This article is part of U.S. Democracy Day, a nationwide collaborative on Sept. 15, the International Day of Democracy, in which news organizations cover how democracy works and the threats it faces. To learn more, visit usdemocracyday.org.

Texans will decide the fate of 14 constitutional amendments recently sent to the ballot by state lawmakers during the Nov. 7 election.

Many of the proposed amendments would create or alter funds to support:

  • Higher education research
  • Water infrastructure
  • Gas-fueled power plants
  • Broadband infrastructure
  • Maintenance and creation of state parks

Several others would address taxes by:

  • Raising the homestead exemption for homeowners from $40,000 to $100,000
  • Creating some tax exemptions for medical equipment and child-care facilities
  • Banning lawmakers from imposing “wealth taxes” without voter approval

Other amendments would affect Texans in certain professions by:

  • Granting retired teachers cost-of-living raises
  • Raising the mandatory retirement age for state judges
  • Protecting farmers and ranchers from nuisance claims as cities around them grow

And two would impact Galveston and El Paso counties specifically, allowing Galveston County to eliminate the position of county treasurer and for El Paso County to use bonds for parks and recreation development.

To weigh in on the constitutional amendments, Texas voters need to be registered to vote by Oct. 10. Here’s a breakdown of voting requirements and of each constitutional amendment.

How to vote

What dates do I need to know?

Oct. 10 is the last day to register to vote and to submit an address change for the constitutional amendment election.

You can check to see if you’re registered and verify your information through the Texas Secretary of State’s website.

You’ll need one of the following three combinations to log in:

  • Your Texas driver’s license number and date of birth.
  • Your first and last names, date of birth and county you reside in.
  • Your date of birth and Voter Unique Identifier, which appears on your voter registration card.

To register to vote, most people will have to fill out and submit a paper application. It must be postmarked by the Oct. 10 deadline. You can request a postage-paid application through the mail or find one at county voter registrars’ offices and some post offices, government offices or high schools. You can also print out the online application and mail it to the voter registrar in your county.

Only people renewing their driver’s license online can register to vote online.

Learn more about voter registration requirements here, and download an application here.

If you need to update your name or address, you can do so online here.

Oct. 27 is the last day to request a mail-in ballot. Applications must be received by the early voting clerk in your county — not postmarked — by Oct. 27.

This option is fairly limited in Texas. According to the Texas secretary of state, to be eligible to vote early by mail a voter must:

  • be 65 years or older by Election Day;
  • be sick or disabled;
  • be out of the county on election day and during the two-week early voting period;
  • be expected to give birth within three weeks before or after election day; or
  • be in jail but otherwise eligible.

Applications to vote by mail can also be submitted by fax or email, but the county must receive a hard copy within four business days. They can also be dropped off in person.

You can download an application here or request an application to be mailed to you here.

If you’re looking to vote by mail, give yourself as much leeway as possible. You’ll need to budget for the time it may take your county to get your ballot to you in the mail after you apply.

The deadline for mail-in ballots to be returned to the county is Election Day, Nov. 7. If a ballot is postmarked by 7 p.m. locally that day, it’ll be counted if it’s received by the county by 5 p.m. Nov. 8.

Absentee ballots can also be delivered to your county elections office in person with a valid form of ID while polls are open on Election Day.

You’ll need to provide an ID number on both your mail-in ballot and ballot envelope. This can be your driver’s license, state ID number or, if you haven’t been assigned those, the last four digits of your Social Security number. If you don’t have any of these ID numbers, you can also indicate you have not been issued that identification.

Voting advocates in the past have suggested providing both a state ID and the last four digits of your social security number to avoid having your mail-in ballot application or ballot rejected.

But under new laws, once election officials receive your ballot, they must notify you of any errors and how to submit corrected forms by mail, in person, or through the state’s online tracking tool.

Early voting in person runs from Oct. 23 to Nov. 3.

During early voting, voters can cast ballots at any polling location in the county where they are registered to vote. Enter your address below to find out what county you live in, and check your county elections office’s website for early-voting locations and hours.

Nov. 7 is Election Day. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Election Day.

Check the open polling locations in your area before you head to the polls. Polling locations may differ from early voting ones, and, in some counties, Election Day voting may be restricted to locations in your designated precinct. Some counties allow voters to cast their ballots at any polling place on Election Day.

What do I need to bring to vote?

You’ll need one of seven types of valid photo ID to vote in Texas:

  • A state driver’s license (issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety)
  • A Texas election identification certificate (issued by DPS)
  • A Texas personal identification card (issued by DPS)
  • A Texas license to carry a handgun (issued by DPS)
  • A U.S. military ID card with a personal photo
  • A U.S. citizenship certificate with a personal photo
  • A U.S. passport

Check out this story for more details.

What if I run into issues with my voter registration?

If you have questions or concerns about your registration, you can find your county’s voter registration contact here or in the address search above.

Inside polling locations, there are typically “resolution desks” where poll workers can address registration issues.

You can also find more information on frequently asked questions from the secretary of state’s office at votetexas.gov.

What if I planned to vote in person but can no longer do so?

If you didn’t apply to vote by mail but are unable to go to a polling place because of a sickness or disability, consider requesting an emergency early voting ballot or using curbside voting. Contact your county elections office for more details.

What’s on the ballot

Each item on the ballot was approved by the Texas Legislature earlier this year.

Proposition 1HJR 126 “The constitutional amendment protecting the right to engage in farming, ranching, timber production, horticulture, and wildlife management.”

What it means: All 50 states have enacted some version of right-to-farm laws. These statutes seek to protect farmers and ranchers from nuisance lawsuits for carrying out their regular operations. Agricultural experts say the lawsuits are a result of urban sprawl, and can happen when people move near existing farms and ranches, but don’t like certain elements of the business such as the smell or noise.

A key component to the amendment directly affects farmers and ranchers who operate within the bounds of a city. The circumstances in which a city may impose requirements on those operations would be limited if the amendment passes, furthering their protection from nuisance claims. Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller said “municipal encroachment will no longer threaten the livelihoods” of farmers and ranchers if the amendment passes. — Jayme Lozano Carver

Proposition 2SJR 64 “The constitutional amendment authorizing a local option exemption from ad valorem taxation by a county or municipality of all or part of the appraised value of real property used to operate a child-care facility.”

What it means: This resolution would allow cities and counties to exempt child care providers from property taxes for any facilities used to run a child care business. The value of the exemption would have to be at least 50 percent of the property’s appraised value.

The amendment would offer relief for child care businesses that have been struggling to stay open since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. With federal pandemic relief money set to dry up for child care businesses, some providers are preparing to close in the next year.

Supporters of the resolution argue that keeping child care businesses open is a win for the economy. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation found that the Texas economy loses nearly $9.4 billion a year from breakdowns in child care. Critics say property tax exemptions will result in higher tax burdens for homeowners and other businesses, who will have to pay more to make up for the lost revenue. — Sneha Dey

Proposition 3HJR 132 “The constitutional amendment prohibiting the imposition of an individual wealth or net worth tax, including a tax on the difference between the assets and liabilities of an individual or family.”

What it means: Several states have proposed so-called “wealth taxes” in recent months, referring to a tax on a person based on the market value of assets they own, which can include real property and retirement accounts, minus their debts or liabilities, such as bankruptcies. Texas has not introduced this and does not have a similar tax.

Supporters of those taxes argue that the impact on the extremely wealthy would be minimal, that the definition of “wealth” can be defined in a way that best suits each state, and that it would help pay for costly programs without impacting lower income people. Critics say raising taxes on someone’s wealth discourages business and that the revenue from it will be less than anticipated. They also say that overall wealth would decline, which would result in less investment and loss of tax revenue from other sources, such as sales and property taxes.

This amendment would force lawmakers to ask voters for authorization before they could impose any new state taxes on residents that would be based on net worth or wealth. — Karen Brooks Harper

Proposition 4HJR 2 “The constitutional amendment to authorize the legislature to establish a temporary limit on the maximum appraised value of real property other than a residence homestead for ad valorem tax purposes; to increase the amount of the exemption from ad valorem taxation by a school district applicable to residence homesteads from $40,000 to $100,000; to adjust the amount of the limitation on school district ad valorem taxes imposed on the residence homesteads of the elderly or disabled to reflect increases in certain exemption amounts; to except certain appropriations to pay for ad valorem tax relief from the constitutional limitation on the rate of growth of appropriations; and to authorize the legislature to provide for a four-year term of office for a member of the board of directors of certain appraisal districts.”

What it means: Texas has some of the highest property taxes in the nation. Earlier this year, Texas lawmakers approved a $12.7 billion package of property tax cuts that needs voter approval in order to take effect.

The package would send $7.1 billion to school districts so they can lower their property tax rates. School district taxes make up the bulk of a Texas property owner’s tax bill. The amendment would also raise the state’s school district homestead exemption — or the slice of a home’s value that can’t be taxed to pay for public schools — from $40,000 to $100,000, at a cost of $5.6 billion.

The amendment also includes other tax reforms, including a temporary limit on appraisals for commercial, mineral and residential properties that don’t receive a homestead exemption that are worth less than $5 million. If voters approve the idea, appraisal districts could not raise the taxable value of those properties by more than 20% each year for the next three years. The limit would expire in 2026 unless lawmakers and voters decide to extend it.

The amendment would also expand the pool of businesses that don’t have to pay the state’s franchise tax — and allow voters to elect three members to their local appraisal district’s board of directors, which are currently appointed. — Joshua Fechter

Proposition 5HJR 3 “The constitutional amendment relating to the Texas University Fund, which provides funding to certain institutions of higher education to achieve national prominence as major research universities and drive the state economy.”

What it means: If passed, the amendment would rename the National Research University Fund to the Texas University Fund. The university fund would gain the annual interest income, dividends and investment earnings from Texas’ rainy day fund to support research at state universities. Total money moved to the university fund in the 2024 fiscal year would be limited to $100 million. The annual amount may be adjusted for inflation and is limited to a 2% growth rate. The Texas A&M and University of Texas systems will not receive money from the fund as they receive research funds from a separate Permanent University Fund.

House Bill 1595 will also take effect if the amendment is passed, requiring the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to determine which universities are eligible and the size of each deposit. The fund will be managed by the comptroller and the Texas Treasury Safekeeping Trust Company. — Caroline Wilburn

Proposition 6SJR 75 “The constitutional amendment creating the Texas water fund to assist in financing water projects in this state.”

What it means: If approved, this resolution would create a new special fund in the state treasury outside of the general revenue fund, endowed with a $1 billion down payment. The fund would be administered by the Texas Water Development Board to support a wide range of projects including fixing Texas’ aging, deteriorating pipes, acquiring more water sources and mitigating water loss.

A portion of the fund would have to be used for water infrastructure projects in rural areas as well as for water conservation strategies and water loss projects. At least 25% of the fund would be used for the New Water Supply Fund for Texas, which will support projects to increase the state’s water supply through, for example, marine desalination and treating “produced water,” which comes from the ground during the oil fracking process.

The new fund would be created Jan. 1, 2024. — Pooja Salhotra

Proposition 7SJR 93 “The constitutional amendment providing for the creation of the Texas energy fund to support the construction, maintenance, modernization, and operation of electric generating facilities.”

What it means: If approved, this resolution would create a state fund allowing officials to distribute loans and grants to companies with the aim of building new natural gas-fueled power plants. This would include giving a 3% interest loan for the construction of or upgrades to gas-fueled power plants on the state’s main electric grid and paying a bonus for getting new plants connected by June 2029.

The Legislature set aside $5 billion to fund these programs for the next two years. Supporters say more gas-fueled power is needed because it can come on any time, unlike wind and solar power that depend on the wind to blow and the sun to shine to operate. Still, gas-fueled power plants are not always reliable and emit greenhouse gasses, which are driving climate change. — Emily Foxhall

Proposition 8HJR 125 “The constitutional amendment creating the broadband infrastructure fund to expand high-speed broadband access and assist in the financing of connectivity projects.”

What it means: Texas lawmakers made an investment in broadband development by passing a bill which would create the Texas broadband infrastructure fund — pending approval of this resolution.

With the passage of this resolution, $1.5 billion would be allocated to expand internet availability in Texas, where some 7 million people currently lack access. These dollars would help pay to develop and finance broadband and telecommunications services as well as 911 services. The fund will also provide matching funds with federal money from the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program. — Pooja Salhotra

Proposition 9 HJR 2 “The constitutional amendment authorizing the 88th Legislature to provide a cost-of-living adjustment to certain annuitants of the Teacher Retirement System of Texas.”

What it means: During the regular session, lawmakers passed Senate Bill 10, which would provide some retired Texas teachers with cost-of-living raises to their monthly pension checks. For some, this is the first raise they will see in almost 20 years.

But to afford these raises, lawmakers need to ask voters to allow them to use $3.3 billion from the general revenue fund and move it to the retired teachers fund. — Brian Lopez

Proposition 10 SJR 87 “The constitutional amendment to authorize the legislature to exempt from ad valorem taxation equipment or inventory held by a manufacturer of medical or biomedical products to protect the Texas healthcare network and strengthen our medical supply chain.”

What it means: School districts, cities and counties are currently allowed to collect property taxes on the value of equipment and inventory that are held by the manufacturers of medical or biomedical products, such as pharmaceuticals, personal protective equipment stocks, and medical devices.

This amendment would exempt those from a facility’s overall property values, leading to a potential decrease in their taxes. The new exemption would cost districts some $207 million in estimated revenue over the next five years, according to a financial analysis.

Supporters of the exemption say that it will encourage more manufacturers in the industry to locate in Texas, lower healthcare costs and strengthen the medical supply chain. Detractors say that school districts are already strapped for money and that the same goals can be achieved without lowering their revenue. They also point out that the amendment doesn’t keep taxing entities from raising tax rates to make up for the loss. — Karen Brooks Harper

Proposition 11SJR 32 “The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to permit conservation and reclamation districts in El Paso County to issue bonds supported by ad valorem taxes to fund the development and maintenance of parks and recreational facilities.”

What it means: Eleven counties’ conservation and reclamation districts are currently permitted to issue bonds supported by property taxes to fund recreational development and improvement. This proposed amendment would add El Paso County to the list.

Conservation and reclamation districts aid in managing stormwater storage, land irrigation and the conservation and development of forests within their designated boundaries. Critics of the amendment say it could cause property taxes to increase for El Paso County residents. — Ali Juell

Proposition 12HJR 134 “The constitutional amendment providing for the abolition of the office of county treasurer in Galveston County.”

What it means: If passed by a majority of Texans and Galveston County residents, this amendment would abolish Galveston County’s office of the county treasurer, an office that exists in other counties.

The office’s current role is to act as a bank for the county, which includes overseeing county investments, maintaining records of deposits and withdrawals and ensuring the safety of county funds. The Commissioner’s Court of Galveston County would be allowed to employ or contract an existing county official or other qualified person to complete tasks previously under the office.

Galveston County’s current treasurer, Hank Dugie, ran on eliminating the position and said in his campaign video the office is, “redundant and a waste of more than half a million dollars each year.” — Ali Juell

Proposition 13HJR 107 “The constitutional amendment to increase the mandatory age of retirement for state justices and judges.”

What it means: Voters will decide if state judges can retire at 79, instead of the current mandatory retirement age of 75. Proposition 13 would also increase the minimum retirement age from 70 to 75 for state judges.

Legal groups advocating for the change argued that more people are working later into their careers than previous generations. Supporters say extending this mandatory retirement age will minimize judicial turnover by keeping elected public servants, who are willing to do this work, on the bench. — William Melhado

Proposition 14SJR 74 “The constitutional amendment providing for the creation of the centennial parks conservation fund to be used for the creation and improvement of state parks.”

What it means: Texas ranks 35th in the nation for state park acreage per capita, according to a report by Environment Texas. This pressured lawmakers to propose investing more than $1 billion for state parks, which advocates said would create “a new golden age” for the park system. The funding would go to buying more land for the state parks system, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. — Alejandra Martinez

Disclosure: Texas Secretary of State, Conservation Fund, University of Texas System and U.S. Chamber of Commerce have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.


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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2023/09/15/texas-constitutional-amendment-voter-guide/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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