What’s this constitutional election buzz all about anyway?
You’ve probably been hearing about the importance of voting in the upcoming constitutional amendment election on Nov. 5, 2019. After all, it’s not every day that Texas voters have an opportunity to revise the Texas Constitution. This year, the 86th Texas Legislature passed 10 joint resolutions that propose amendments to the constitution and require voter approval. Every Texan who is registered to vote has the right to decide whether those 10 amendments become part of the state’s constitution. But only those who actually exercise that right to vote will get to determine whether the amendments become the law of the land or simply fade away.
Before you head to the polls with family and friends, do your homework and take a minute to learn about all 10 proposed amendments. We will cover two of the proposed amendments with direct correlation to public education here. Proposition 4 (HJR 38) impacts the potential for future establishment of a state income tax, and Proposition 7 (HJR 151) increases the amount the General Land Office can distribute from the Permanent School Fund to the Available School Fund each year from $300 million to $600 million.
Proposition 4 (HJR 38) as it will appear on the ballot reads as follows: “The constitutional amendment prohibiting the imposition of an individual income tax, including a tax on an individual’s share of partnership and unincorporated association income.”
Here’s what that really means:
Texas Proposition 4 modifies the current constitutional restrictions against legislative imposition of a state income tax. The state of Texas is widely known for not imposing a state income tax. The current state constitution in Article Vlll, sections 1(c) and 24, prohibits legislators from creating an income tax unless there is a statewide vote to approve such a tax. While polling suggests that it is unlikely that Texas voters would agree to an income tax, should that change, the current constitution also mandates how the revenue from any such income tax would have to be spent: two-thirds of the income tax revenue would go toward property tax reduction, while one-third of the income tax revenue would be spent on public education. This year’s Proposition 4 is designed to make it even less likely that Texans would ever pay a state income tax by repealing the current constitutional language referring to the statewide referendum and replacing it with language that simply prohibits the imposition of an “individual income tax” at the state level. The functional effect of this change is not to make it absolutely impossible for there to be an income tax in Texas in the future, but rather to increase the legislative votes necessary to overturn such a prohibition. Two-thirds of the legislature would have to agree to letting voters decide whether or not to add a state income tax in the future if this proposition passes in November.
A vote “for” Proposition 4 would mean that you agree with the proposition to change the current language in the constitution restricting a state income tax. A vote “against” Proposition 4 means that you prefer the current language in the constitution that prohibits a state income tax unless legislators vote to allow statewide voters to reject or approve the proposed tax, which would be used to fund property tax reduction and public education.
Proposition 7 (HJR 151) as it will appear on the ballot states as follows: “The constitutional amendment allowing increased distributions to the available school fund.”
Here’s what that really means:
Proposition 7 would potentially affect the source, but not necessarily the amount, of state education spending by allowing for larger distributions from the Permanent School Fund (PSF). The PSF is an endowment established under Section 2, Article Vll, of the Texas Constitution for the financial support of public schools in Texas. Management of the fund is divided between the State Board of Education (SBOE), which oversees managing the fund’s financial investment portfolio, and the General Land Office, which through the School Land Board manages the fund’s land or real estate investments. Currently a portion of the PSF is transferred to the Available School Fund (ASF) each year to be used to purchase instructional materials for students and provide additional funding for public education. The remainder of the PSF is held for future use. Proposition 7 seeks to increase the amount of state funding for public schools being paid out of the ASF by increasing the permissible amount of the annual distribution from the PSF to the ASF from $300 million to $600 million.
This increase alone would not result in an increase in overall public education funding. Without additional statutory changes, Proposition 7 would simply reduce the amount of funding the legislature would be required to spend from other funding sources to meet the state’s obligation to fund public education. However, as we reported here on Teach the Vote over the summer, it is not clear how significantly Proposition 7, if approved by voters, might reduce the state’s need to tap into general revenue to support public schools in future legislative sessions.
Does ATPE have a position on these two proposed constitutional amendments?
No. As stated in the ATPE Legislative Program approved each year by our House of Delegates, ATPE supports a public education funding system that is equitable and adequate to provide every student an equal opportunity to receive an exemplary public education. ATPE also supports any form of state revenue enhancement and tax restructuring that accomplishes this goal. However, ATPE does not have an official legislative position specifically on banning/supporting an income tax; nor do we have an official legislative position relating to the percentage of public education funding that comes from the PSF or ASF.
What else is on the ballot?
Click here to view the ballot language for all 10 of the proposed constitutional amendments along with analysis from the Texas Legislative Council. Also, our friends at the nonpartisan League of Women Voters of Texas (LWVTX) have put together a Constitutional Amendment Election Voters Guide that explains all the amendments and shares pro and con arguments along with a short video for each proposed amendment at the bottom of the page. It’s an easy-to-understand resource that ATPE encourages you to check out before you vote.
If you happen to live in one of three Texas House districts, you’ll also have a chance during the Nov. 2019 election to choose a new state representative. Three state representatives have resigned from their seats, necessitating special elections in those districts. The winner of each special election will serve out the remainder of the current term until Jan. 2021. Barring a special session being called by the governor, it is unlikely that those elected through November’s special election will have a chance to vote on any bills, but the winners of those special elections will be able to claim incumbent status next year, often deemed an advantage for anyone who decides to run for the same office in the regular election cycle that will take place in 2020.
These special elections for legislative seats will be taking place in House districts 28,100, and 148. In what the Texas Tribune has described as “the most closely watched race” this fall, ATPE’s lobby team has profiled the candidates seeking the House seat in district 28, which you can read here.
Other local ballot measures will vary throughout the state depending where you live. Voters can visit Vote411.org to view and print out a sample ballot showing exactly what will you will be voting on in your area.
Early voting runs from Oct. 21 through Nov. 1, and election day is Nov. 5, 2019.