Every odd numbered year, and sometimes in even-numbered years when there's a special session of the Legislature, Texas has an election to amend the state Constitution. This is necessary because the state Constitution of 1874 is such a poorly written document that little or nothing can be done WITHOUT amending the state constitution... and yet amendment only requires a simple majority of the electorate, giving the constitution all the strength and resilience of salt-water taffy.
This year there are sixteen propositions on the statewide ballot. Here's how I intend to vote, and why I believe Libertarian-minded people should vote likewise.
First, let's skip around a bit and cover all the bond authorizations at once. As a general rule, governments should only borrow money in the most dire of circumstances, because borrowing makes everything more expensive and guarantees higher taxes over the long term. It's debatable whether or not carrying a small government debt helps establish credit against such emergencies; it's not debatable at all that a large government debt cripples both the government and the overall economy. Libertarians should always insist that, if government cannot be stopped from doing something, that it must pay as it goes, borrowing only in cases where urgent need will brook no delay.
This year's bond issues are Proposition 2 ($500 million for a student loan fund), Proposition 4 ($1 billion for maintenance of public buildings), Proposition 12 ($5 billion for highway projects), Proposition 15 ($3 billion for a new state cancer research agency), and Propsoition 16 ($250 million to bring water and sewer service to "economically distressed" neighborhoods- read shantytowns- along the Texas-Mexico border).
Two of these propositions are clearly unnecessary- government should not be either in the business of lending money or funding cancer research (for the benefit of private pharmaceutical corporations) with tax dollars. Both higher education and cancer research should be funded by charity, not by forcing taxpayers to cough up the dough.
Proposition 16, likewise, should be voted down. The "Texas Water Development Board" was created in 1989 to eliminate the problem of homes in the Rio Grande Valley without running water or sewage service. Despite $500 million already spent, this problem has gotten worse, not better, as immigrants and the poor have built new shantytowns in ever more rural areas at a faster rate than the state can keep up with. This infrastruture issue should have remained a local matter, not a state matter; borrowing money to continue it only compounds the waste.
As for the highway bill, it sounds good until you consider two points. First, Texas has a special highway fund for the purpose of maintaining and constructing public roads. This proposal bypasses that fund and authorizes backing the bonds from the general fund directly- thus offering greater opportunity for corruption and overspending when the Texas Department of Transportation is already under investigation for shady spending practices. Second- and more fundamentally- the vast majority of this money will go towards the construction of the Trans-Texas Corridor, a network of privately operated for-profit toll roads, many of which will be converted from currently existing free highways. Building public roads that benefit all is a legitimate government function, as part of regulating commerce; using tax money to back bonds to make private corporations and their friends in the bureaucracy richer is NOT a legitimate function.
Finally, Proposition 4 would not be necessary had the government practiced responsible budgeting and paid for ongoing maintenance as a regular expenditure. By letting things run down and by building new and wasteful projects instead of maintaining existing structures, those in power both Republican and Democrat have made this process much more expensive than it needs to be. Increasing maintenance budgets in all departments would be less expensive in the long run than the bonds will- and for that cause alone Proposition 4 needs to be defeated.
So- vote NO on Propositions 2, 4, 12, 15 and 16.
Now for the other propositions, in order:
PROPOSITION 1: This proposition merely completes the transfer of Angelo State University from the Texas State University System to the Texas Tech University System- both operated by the state government. Voting yea or nay will have no effect on state funding of higher education. I propose to vote Yes, but there is no particular Libertarian reason for voting either Yes or No.
PROPOSITION 3: This proposal allows the legislature to cap appraisal hikes on property taxes in districts that assess property values on a less than annual basis. Although assessment caps sound good on first glance, more careful consideration shows it to be an empty promise. This proposal would not affect most of the taxing entities in the state, which do re-assess property on an annual basis. In those locations where it does apply, the tax burden will merely be shifted elsewhere- either by making up higher appraisals on other property or by raising the overall tax rate. This amendment violates the spirit of the original state constitution, which provides that taxation be uniform- the same rate for all.
Property taxation is inherently unjust in any case, in that it works to forcibly transfer property ownership from the cash-poor to the wealthy. Property tax is one of the most regressive taxes ever devised, and Libertarians should rank it even above income tax as the form of taxation in greatest need of abolition. Proposition 3 claims- falsely- to make Texas property taxes more fair, and fails to address the root problem. For this reason Libertarians should vote NO on Proposition 3.
PROPOSITION 5: This proposition allows the Legislature to allow towns of 10,000 or fewer residents to give specific property tax exemptions for properties participating in Main Street USA or other revitalization projects. Such exemptions would take the overall tax burden away from businesses and lay it heavier on homeowners and other individuals, making the property tax even more unfair. For this reason Libertarians should vote NO on Proposition 5.
PROPOSITION 6: This proposition would allow the self-employed and small business owners to exempt one vehicle from their business property tax, provided it is used for both business and personal use. This is actually a sensible measure; it remedies an unintended flaw in state law. Originally personal vehicles and business vehicles were meant to be handled differently- personal vehicles were not subject to property tax and never intended to be. Unfortunately local taxing entities read the law in such a way that small business owners and the self-employed had to report all their vehicles as business vehicles- even if they only owned one vehicle. Rather than unjustly transferring tax burden to others, it takes away a tax burden unjustly laid on others and puts it back where it was intended to lie. Libertarians should vote YES on Proposition 6- and continue working to abolish the property tax altogether, so such injustice never recurs.
PROPOSITION 7: This proposition allows government entities to sell back property taken by eminent domain to its original owners for the price originally paid by the government. I can't believe that this was actually ILLEGAL to do before- if the government does not need the property, it CERTAINLY should not charge more for the owners to reclaim what was taken from them by force! Granted, there are problems with the bill, but Governor Perry is against it- which is all the more reason for Libertarians to vote YES on Proposition 7.
PROPOSITION 8: This proposition clarifies certain questions on home equity loans (mortgages), which were only in the last fifteen years made legal in the state of Texas. The questions involved are complex, and the basic underlying issues have Libertarian arguments on both sides (the freedom of individuals to dispose of property as they see fit v. protection against fraudulent and misleading business practices). I lean towards voting NO on the sole premise that the issues are too complex and varied to be lumped into a single ballot proposition, but I see no strong Libertarian preference towards either side.
PROPOSITION 9: Proposition 9 allows a property tax exemption for disabled war veterans. Although this addresses in small part the fundamental injustice of property taxes- they take property away from those who have no means of paying the tax- it fails to address the core issue, which is that property taxation is inherently unjust and can never be made fair. The proper way to protect the homes of disabled veterans is to end property taxation altogether. Although I personally intend to vote NO, I can see Libertarian arguments on both sides and feel that a YES vote can be justified on the grounds of not forcing those unable to work to pay property tax.
PROPOSITION 10: Proposition 10 abolishes a long-obsolete county office, the Inspector of Hides and Animals. There is no possible reason on Earth for opposing this office (except that it takes away an office Texas Libertarians have run for and won in the past as a publicity stunt). The only Libertarian vote is to vote YES- and help eliminate an office which would have been abolished decades ago in a sensible system.
PROPOSITION 11: Proposition 11 would expand the number of votes in the Legislature for which a recorded vote is required to all final votes on bills except ceremonial votes or votes on issues of strictly local importance. Greater government transparency should always be supported. Although this bill definitely does not go far enough- in particular it doesn't require recorded votes on amendments to bills- it's a step in the right direction, and therefore Libertarians should vote YES.
PROPOSITION 13: Would allow courts to deny bail when the accused violates conditions of prior bail in felony or family violence cases. One of the vital functions of government is to protect individuals from the violation of their rights- particularly from violent attack. Government needs the power to lock up, without bail, persons who demonstrate their unwillingness to abide by court orders in such cases. A YES vote is a vote to make our state safer, and so should Libertarians vote.
PROPOSITION 14: This proposal allows elected judges who reach mandatory retirement age to complete their terms (or, in the case of judges elected for six years, to serve at least four years of their term). I personally believe this is going in the wrong direction. Incumbency is a major impediment to removing a bad judge from office, and by weakening the mandatory retirement age this bill makes it that much easier for bad judges to remain in office, increasing their personal power and influence in our court system. Libertarians should encourage the frequent turnover of government officials by voting NO.
PROPOSITION 1 - No strong Libertarian preference
PROPOSITION 2 - NO
PROPOSITION 3 - NO
PROPOSITION 4 - NO
PROPOSITION 5 - NO
PROPOSITION 6 - YES
PROPOSITION 7 - YES
PROPOSITION 8 - No strong Libertarian preference
PROPOSITION 9 - No strong Libertarian preference
PROPOSITION 10 - YES
PROPOSITION 11 - YES
PROPOSITION 12 - NO
PROPOSITION 13 - YES
PROPOSITION 14 - NO
PROPOSITION 15 - NO
PROPOSITION 16 - NO
For your own education, read the ballot language and full text of the propositions at the Texas Secretary of State's website here.