Texas voters are being asked to approve 10 constitutional amendments on Tuesday, including plans that would allow government agencies to raise billions of more dollars and provide tax breaks for conservation, college students and the spouses of disabled veterans.
Attracting the most attention on the ballot is Proposition 2, which would enable the state to create a revolving $6 billion bond package to finance water conservation, and sewage and flood-control projects.
Supporters, including The Nature Conservancy and some in the oil and gas industry, said the increased bonding authority for the Texas Water Development Board is necessary to update water utilities and to pay for the state water plan.
"The availability of water is an issue that cuts across every district and impacts every citizen," Texas House Speaker Joe Straus said. "Proposition 2 allows Texas to address critical improvements to local water and wastewater systems, from new water towers and transmission lines, to improved conservation efforts."
But critics argue that Proposition 2, along with the other bonding plans -- Propositions 3, 4 and 7 -- would increase government spending by granting permanent permission for various entities to issue more bond debt.
"It is a poor way to manage the state's debt load. We are committing to $6 billion in debt forever," said Michael Quinn Sullivan, president of Texans for Fiscal Responsibility. "Twenty years from now, we may really wish we had the permanent water debt or the permanent scholarship loan debt for something more pressing."
Proposition 3 would allow the Higher Education Coordinating Board to issue bonds that would fund low-interest student loans. Supporters argue that the plan is necessary because budget cuts to financial aid programs at the state and federal level will likely increase the demand for fixed-rate loans.
Under Proposition 4, Texas counties would be given the same authority that cities and towns have to issue bonds to finance the development of unproductive, underdeveloped or blighted areas, while pledging repayment with property tax revenues. Critics argue that the amendment would expand transportation reinvestment zones to counties, which could clear the way for new toll roads.
Although the amendment does not allow for higher property tax rates, opponents warn that taxpayers could still face higher taxes in the form of increased appraisals to pay for the development.
Proposition 7 would allow El Paso County to use property taxes from newly created conservation and reclamation districts to develop and maintain parks and recreation facilities.
If Proposition 8 were approved, property owners could opt out of agricultural or wildlife conservation exemptions -- which could be a less cost-effective use of land during a drought -- and instead get the water conservation tax exemption, said Laura Huffman, state director of the Texas Nature Conservancy. The group helped write and push the proposed amendment through the Legislature.
The proposal has been hailed as one of the few measures approved by the Legislature last session that received bipartisan support almost every step of the way despite an increasingly acrimonious political environment that has largely divided lawmakers along party lines.
Proposition 1 would allow the surviving spouses of all disabled veterans to continue claiming an exemption from state property tax after the veteran dies. Right now, a widow or widower must resume paying the property tax after her or his disabled spouse dies.
Public schools could get more money from the state's Permanent School Fund, if Proposition 6 is approved. It seeks to recalculate the formula by which funds from the endowment are distributed, which could increase the amount going to school districts.
Other proposed amendments include Proposition 5, which would authorize the Legislature to allow cities and counties to enter into contracts with other cities and counties without triggering a property tax.
Proposition 9 would allow the Texas governor to grant a pardon, reprieve or commutation of punishment to a person who completes a sentence of deferred adjudication. The records could only be cleared on the written recommendation and advice of the Board of Pardons and Paroles.
Under Proposition 10, local elected officeholders would get an extra 30 days before triggering automatic resignation if they become a candidate for another office.
Two weeks of early voting ended Friday. The state reported a 2 percent turnout in Texas' 15 largest counties, compared to 20 percent in the 2010 general election.