Wednesday, November 07, 2001

"Plenty of political muscle was flexed on behalf of Proposition 15."

Texans OK road, prison, park proposals

November 7, 2001

JOHN MORITZ, Austin Bureau
Fort Worth Star-Telegram Copyright 2001

Texas voters Tuesday approved accelerating highway construction, upgrading the state's parks and prisons, and improving roadways in the impoverished colonias along the Rio Grande.

Turnout was light statewide, as expected, for the 19 proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution. With about 70 percent of the state's precincts reporting, all the propositions were passing, including measures allocating more money for veterans' programs and for a variety of water projects across the state.

The only two amendments where the outcome remained in doubt until late in the evening were a proposal to grant tax exemptions for raw cocoa and green coffee stored in Harris County, and another to exempt travel trailers from property taxes.

In local elections around the state, Houston Mayor Lee P. Brown was leading a field of six candidates in his bid for a third term, but appeared to be headed to a runoff with Councilman Orlando Sanchez. In Austin, voters elected former Councilman Gus Garcia as the capital city's first Hispanic mayor.

In a special election to replace the late state Sen. Tom Haywood of Wichita Falls, Republican businessman Craig Estes was leading a crowded field, but was headed for a runoff with Democrat Greg Underwood, a former mayor of Bowie.

Although none of the proposed amendments to Texas' oft-changed Constitution packed an emotional punch for voters, plenty of political muscle was flexed on behalf of Proposition 15 , which will allow the state to use bond funds for highway projects.

Gov. Rick Perry toured the state promoting the issue, saying Texas' burgeoning population is straining existing freeways and that the state's traditional pay-as-you-go method of financing transportation needs has become obsolete.

Support for the measure creating the Texas Mobility Fund was running about 2-to-1. The proposition does not actually provide money for construction.

Linda Harper-Brown, the chairwoman of the statewide coalition supporting Proposition 15 , hailed its passage as "a milestone in Texas history."

"Today's passage of Proposition 15 opens the door to solving the transportation problems in Texas," Harper-Brown said. "With this tool, legislators can now leverage the resources they have available to them to build more roads, repair existing roads ... and improve mobility."

Perry also lent his clout to Proposition 2, which allows the state to dedicate up to $175 million to build and improve roadways for the estimated 1,800 colonias in Texas' 23 border counties. The colonias have long lagged in providing basic transportation , and water and sewer services for their largely Hispanic residents.

"With their support of Propositions 2 and 15 , Texans have voted for safer, more reliable roads and highways, and greater opportunity for economic development in Texas," Perry said.

Texas Rangers' legend Nolan Ryan made a late campaign pitch on behalf of Proposition 8, a catch-all package that authorizes the state to issue $850 million for agencies to upgrade and maintain sundry facilities. Support for the measure was running about 60 percent.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice, for instance, is in line to receive $300 million over six years to upgrade the roofing, plumbing and electrical systems at numerous prisons around the state. More than $100 million is earmarked for the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife for repairs at the state's parks, wildlife management areas and fish hatcheries.

The Department of Health's share is $33.9 million to rebuild the Texas Center for Infectious Disease in San Antonio and to construct two outpatient hospitals along the Texas-Mexico border. More than $30 million is set aside to renovate classrooms, dormitories and other facilities at the Texas School for the Blind and the Texas School for the Deaf.

Also included in Proposition 8 is $18.5 million to be used as grants to local law enforcement agencies. The money will be used to purchase video equipment to monitor traffic stops to help identify whether officers are engaging in racial profiling.

Proposition 7 will allow the Veterans Land Board to issue $500 million in bonds for home loans to veterans and to expand the state's veterans cemetery system. It was cruising to passage by a near 3-1 margin.

Texans were also giving a solid endorsement to Proposition 19, which makes available $ 2billion in bonds to finance water-supply and flood-control projects throughout the state. The measure is an outgrowth of the state's 1997 master plan for maintaining a clean and adequate water supply.

Voters strongly endorsed Proposition 13, which allows school districts to donate old schoolhouses for historic preservation, and to Proposition 5, which allows cities to donate surplus firefighting equipment to underdeveloped countries.

The Texas Constitution, ratified more than a century ago, is a cumbersome document of about 65,000 words and 390 amendments. By contrast, the U.S. Constitution is almost 100 years older but contains only about 7,000 words and 27 amendments.

Texans went a short way toward simplifying their Constitution by ratifying Proposition 12. The measure allows some sections that have outlived their relevance to be deleted. Examples include references to the state's "Lunatic, Blind, Deaf and Dumb, and Orphans Asylums." Though the state continues to operate facilities for people with certain disabilities, their names have been modified over the years with language more acceptable to the times.

With no candidates or burning issues on the statewide ballot, turnout was projected to be only about 8 percent.

Staff writer Bryon Okada contributed to this report.

John Moritz, (512) 476-4294

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