Saturday, September 29, 2007

"Anti-tollers could make passage of Proposition 12 difficult if they get engaged in the election."

16 proposals; how many voters?


Bruce Davidson
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2007

The small group of Texans that actually pays attention to state government is being called to duty once again.

Voters will be asked to make decisions on 16 proposed constitutional amendments on the Nov. 6 ballot.

According to the Texas Legislative Council, the state constitution has been amended 440 times since it was adopted in 1876. More than 200 amendments approved by lawmakers have been rejected by voters.

Traditionally, state constitutional amendments draw embarrassingly few voters to the polls.

A single-amendment election in May drew about 7 percent of the state's registered voters. Constitutional amendment turnout has ranged from 17.8 percent to 6.9 percent in the past decade.

That's not enough to brag about. To the contrary, the low totals represent the apathy toward state government in Texas.

In November, $9.25 billion in bonds are on the ballot in addition to numerous other issues.

Proposition 15, which would allow $3billion in bonds to be issued to establish the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, garnered the most attention during this year's legislative session.

The plan had high-profile supporters, and making Texas a leader in cancer research would be hard to oppose.

The largest single chunk of bond money on the ballot is the $5 billion that would be authorized by Proposition 12 for highway improvements.

Anyone with a car realizes that Texas needs more roadways to deal with congestion, but the Texas Department of Transportation is radioactive these days because of the push for toll roads.

Even a whiff of toll roads could stir up a storm of animosity; however, the decision on how to use the bond funds is still pending action by the Legislature.

According to Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee staff, the bonds could not be used until lawmakers pass enabling legislation. The amendment would merely make the bonds available for future use, and a legislative aide said committee Chairman John Carona, R-Dallas, who sponsored the amendment in the Legislature, opposes using the funds for toll roads.

Legislation designed to make the money available for loans to local authorities to develop toll roads was defeated, the House Research Organization noted in an analysis of the amendment.

Texas voters approved the concept of funding roads with borrowed money in 2001, the HRO stated. And the state is well below the allowed capacity for borrowing.

But anti-tollers could make passage of Proposition 12 difficult if they get engaged in the election.

Other spending measures on the ballot include Proposition 4, which would authorize $1 billion for the Texas Department of Public Safety, Texas Parks and Wildlife, the Texas Historical Commission and various other state agencies.

The parks portion has a clear constituency. Parks supporters pushed hard to increase parks funding in this year's legislative session. State parks have been underfunded for years, and the bonds will finance long-delayed repairs.

And as usual, most of the amendments, while important to some or many, do not involve issues that will set the electorate on fire.

Proposition 10 would remove all references to county offices of inspector of hides and animals. The job already has been abolished in numerous counties. It is virtually defunct, and most of its powers were stripped from the Agriculture Code in 2003, the HRO noted, but it still is mentioned in the constitution. Don't expect a hot debate on that one.

Many believe the constitution should be revamped, but that isn't likely to happen anytime soon.

Instead, hard-core voters once again will accept the assignment of rewriting bits and pieces of the antiquated document and deciding whether to approve new state debt.

© 2007 San Antonio Express-News:

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