Texas amends its Constitution–again.

Texans have now amended their state constitution 467 times since 1876. Just over a million votes were cast statewide this year and voters approved all 11 amendments on the ballot.  The last time we had an election with just constitutional amendments on the ballot (2007) turnout was 6.3% of the voting age population. (The higher rate of 8.7% reported in some accounts is the percentage of registered voters who cast their vote). It looks like turnout was slightly lower this year. However, there are some votes still not counted. The 2009 results are available from the Texas Secretary of State’s web site.

The Texas Constitution is cluttered with too many issues. Among other things, this year Texans voted on the vital constitutional issues of:

  • giving cities and counties the authority to buy up land to create “buffer zones” near military bases.
  • appraisal of property for ad valorem tax purposes.
  • allowing two or more adjoining appraisal entities that elect to provide for consolidated equalizations.
  • authorizing the Veterans’ Land Board to issue bonds in amounts equal to or less than amounts previously authorized.
  • protecting the public use of public beaches on the seaward shore of the Gulf of Mexico.

and…

  • allowing elected members of governing boards of emergency services districts to serve terms not to exceed four years

Now, before you get caught up in the excitement of extending the terms of office for Harris County emergency service districts, you should pause and note that there were a couple of other issues on the ballot.

Amendment #11 was designed to make it harder for local entities to use eminent domain to acquire private property. This became a hot issue after the Perry’s Trans-Texas Corridor was demonized for threatening to push aside family farms to make way for toll road and well after  homes fell to the bulldozers making the way for the new Cowboys Stadium. Suddenly, taking land from citizens for fun and profit wasn’t as much fun.  There seems to be some doubt about the exact impact of the amendment on economic development. Instead of cementing this uncertain language into the Texas Constitution to appease property rights advocates, it might be wise to leave this to the laws already passed by the Legislature. However, the amendment proved to be the most popular, passing with about 80% of the vote.

Amendment #4 will help elevate additional Texas schools to a “Tier 1” level.  It seems odd to me that there’s suddenly a great deal of interest in the enhancing a few elite universities even money proves tight in the existing Tier 1 schools. This looks like one of those promises that today’s politicians like to make because they’re leaving others to pay for in the future. An alternative to chasing the prestige of having more Tier 1 schools would be increasing funding for all schools so that they could handle the influx of students mandated by the state’s goal of putting another 500,000 students in higher education. However, it’s no fun talking about failing to fund what we’re already not doing. It’s more fun to talk about the wonderful things we could do and the amendment was passed with about 56% of the vote.

I’m still amazed by the range and number of issues we jam into our Constitution. People may say that the system is working because we’re still passing amendments. However, I’m not convinced about the health of a process that only  involves about 1 in 16 Texas voters.

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