In the upcoming elections, voters will be asked to decide on a number of ballot measures. The specific referendums on the ballot will depend on where you live.
Texas Constitutional Amendments
As many of you know, we have a completely dysfunctional state constitutional system, where voters are asked with regularity to amend the State Constitution. In this election, there are seventeen (17) amendments that have been proposed by the Texas Legislature. To get on the ballot, each of these measures were approved by at least a two-thirds vote of both houses.
For the most part, the proposed constitutional amendments seem pretty innocuous to me. Some, like Proposition No. 3, which would prohibit a wealth tax in Texas, are purely political posturing. Others, like Proposition No. 4, which increases the homestead exemption for school districts to $100,000 and reimburses school districts for the revenue they will lose as a result, are important.
My friend and former UT professor, Mark Miller, follows state constitutional propositions very closely and has written this summary of those on the current ballot. I will probably not follow his lead on Proposition No. 7, which establishes a fund to finance electric grid improvements, but his analysis of the amendments is thorough and objective; I highly recommend it.
Harris Health Bond Referendum
Harris County residents will be asked to approve a $2.5 billion bond issue. The funds will primarily be spent on rebuilding the LBJ hospital complex on the North Loop 610 between Lockwood and Homestead and on making improvements to Ben Taub Hospital in the Texas Medical Center. One of the big selling points is that a new Level 1 trauma center will be included in the new LBJ complex, which most experts agree is long overdue for a city of our size.
I think it is noteworthy that the leadership of every major healthcare system in the region has endorsed the bond proposal. I have spoken to several of the CEOs personally and they are adamant in their support. They cite the new trauma center but also point to the growing number of uninsured residents in the County.
Several critics of the proposal have raised a number of legitimate concerns, such as the fact that the LBJ site is surrounded by property in the 100-year flood plain. Also, some question whether building a new facility in a part of the county where there has been little growth is the right location. Proponents respond that location is an area where there are high levels of uninsured residents and the buildings will be protected from any flooding risk.
If I were designing the plan, there are probably some tweaks I would make to it. But I think this is one of those issues where we cannot let perfect be the enemy of good and I will vote in favor of the bond. I would encourage those with concerns about the plan to support it but to stay engaged after the election as the detailed planning and implementation proceed.
City of Houston Propositions
Proposition A asks voters to amend the City charter to provide that any three Council members can require that an item appear on the Council agenda. Currently, the mayor has the sole power to decide what items Council will consider.
Some of you may recall that I said in my mayoral campaigns that I thought the City’s strong-mayor form of government went too far and that we needed to re-balance power between the mayor and Council. This was one of the reforms I proposed. Therefore, I would strongly urge everyone vote for Proposition A.
Proposition B is a proposal that would ban the City from participating in the Houston-Galveston Area Council (HGAC) unless it gets representation on HGAC’s board in proportion to its population. For those of you not familiar with HGAC, it is a regional council of local governments charged with, among other things, allocating transportation funding the in Houston region. While I can understand the objection of Houstonians that they should get proportional representation, this proposition is a little like someone threatening to shoot themselves if they don’t get their way. I can assure you that none of the other entities at HGAC will spend one minute mourning the loss of the City of Houston's participation.
Apparently, the belief behind the backers of this proposition is that it would allow the City to form its own “Metropolitan Planning Organization” (MPO), which would then apply for federal funds directly without going through HGAC. The fly in this ointment is that under the current law, the Governor would have to approve the City setting up its own MPO. There is exactly a zero chance Abbott would do that. So, the most likely outcome would be that the City would simply not be represented at all in the decision-making process of how transportation funds are allocated in our region.
The bad news is that the polling currently shows the proposition is likely to pass. The good news is that because the courts have made it nearly impossible for citizens to enforce city charter provisions, the next mayor and Council will likely just ignore the amendment as the previous mayors and Councils have ignored other citizen-initiated referendums, e.g., the limitation on increasing water and sewage rates.
There are a number of other bond elections and city elections in the area. For those living in Harris County, you can view what will be included on your ballot at Harris Votes.