Texas voters supporting property tax cuts and infrastructure spending, but opposing later retirement for judges
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Property tax cuts, a raise for retired teachers and billions in investments in infrastructure, research, tech and energy appeared headed for passage as voters showed their approval for more than a dozen constitutional amendments, according to early returns on Tuesday night.
But a measure to allow judges to retire at a later age appeared to be going down, with barely over one-third of Texans voting for it.
And a few others — including a property tax exemption for biomedical inventory and equipment from property taxes, were passing by only slim margins.
Voters weighed 14 constitutional amendments totaling up to $20 billion and appeared ready to approve 13 of them.
The most definitive support appears to be going to Prop 4, the $18 billion property tax relief measure, which had 87% of the vote in early returns.
Here’s a look at what the propositions will do:
Requires state and local governments to provide evidence that regulation of generally accepted farming and ranching practices is needed to protect the public from danger. For example, it would prevent a city from banning farming in an area for no specific reason, but it would allow for a government to require ranchers to put up fences for their livestock, according to the Texas Farm Bureau, which supported the amendment.
Allows cities and counties to exempt child care providers from property taxes on any facility used to run such a business. The amendment will 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.
Forces 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. Several states have proposed so-called “wealth taxes” in recent months, though Texas has not. The term refers 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.
Allows the state to spend $18 billion on property tax cuts for homeowners and businesses, cut school districts’ tax rates and enact other tax changes. 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.
Authorizes the state to create the Texas University Fund, a $3.9 billion endowment to help “emerging” research universities across the state enhance their capabilities. The university fund would gain the annual interest income, dividends and investment earnings from Texas’ rainy day fund.
Creating a water fund 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.
Creating an energy 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.
Creating an broadband infrastructure fund where $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.
Provides 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.
Exempts school districts, cities and counties from collecting property taxes on the value of equipment and inventory held by medical and biomedical product manufacturers. This amendment would exempt those taxes from a facility’s overall property values. The new exemption would cost school districts some $207 million in estimated revenue over the next five years, according to a financial analysis.
Permits conservation and reclamation districts in El Paso County to issue bonds supported by property taxes to fund recreational development and improvement. Eleven other Texas counties are already authorized to do this. Conservation and reclamation districts aid in managing stormwater storage, land irrigation and the conservation and development of forests within their designated boundaries.
Abolishes Galveston County’s office of the county treasurer, an office that exists in other Texas 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.
Increases the mandatory retirement age for state judges from 75 to 79 and the minimum retirement age from 70 to 75. Legal groups advocating for the change argued that more people are working later into their careers than previous generations.
Creating a centennial parks conservation fund to invest more than $1 billion to create and improve state parks. 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.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2023/11/07/texas-constitutional-amendment-election-results/.
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