Friday, October 12, 2007

Texas 2007 Constitutional Election- How to Vote

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.

In conclusion:

PROPOSITION 1 - No strong Libertarian preference
PROPOSITION 8 - No strong Libertarian preference
PROPOSITION 9 - No strong Libertarian preference

For your own education, read the ballot language and full text of the propositions at the Texas Secretary of State's website here.


Anonymous said...

Good post. You've changed my vote on several propositions.

Anonymous said...

(Re: Prop. 10 comments)

"There is no possible reason on Earth for opposing this office."

You're damn right. So vote NO on Proposition 10!

kevin said...

Glad that I read this. Admittedly, I don't know where I stand politically. However, you have made sound sense out of all of these, I appreciate your post.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with you on Prop 13. I think this is very much against the libertarian concept of 'innocent until proven guilty', and 'equal protection under the law'. Having been falsely accused of domestic violence, I cannot begin to explain how much of a nightmare it can be. I do not condone domestic violence, and I abhorr the current system that encourages false allegations without any proof or reprocussions.

What follows is a very articulate column from Glenn Sacks, a father's rights advocate.

The measure grants judges the ability to hold without bail those accused of nonviolent, trivial, or accidental violations of temporary restraining orders.

Under current Texas law, the only defendants ineligible for bail are those accused of capital crimes. In addition, judges are provided discretion to deny bail to those who have been both charged with a felony and convicted or indicted for a previous felony. To deny bail, there must be “evidence substantially showing the guilt of the accused.”

Prop 13 obliterates this, and opens the road for many innocent men to be held without bail. Like many states, Texas has adopted aggressive arrest procedures on domestic violence calls. The result has been that men are sometimes arrested for misdemeanor domestic violence based on thin evidence. After the arrest, Emergency Protective Orders are entered against the accused, typically barring him from going home or having any contact with his children. Fathers can violate the orders by innocent acts such as calling their own children, accidentally running into them and their mother in the mall, or going to their Little League games.

Under Prop 13, judges will have the power to incarcerate without bail men who violate their EPOs. Moreover, the Proposition lowers the evidence standard from Substantial Showing to Preponderance of the Evidence, which can rapidly degenerate into a “he said/she said” contest that men usually lose.

Even worse, Prop 13 also encourages the legislature to pass a law which would allow fathers who violate temporary ex parte protective orders to be jailed without bail. Women can obtain these orders by claiming their male partners abused them, and the men are then booted out of their own homes without ever having a chance to defend themselves in court.

It is true that ex parte protective orders can be a useful tool to help protect battered women. However, as the Family Law News, the official publication of the State Bar of California Family Law Section, recently explained -"Protective orders are increasingly being used in family law cases to help one side jockey for an advantage in child custody…[the orders are] almost routinely issued by the court in family law proceedings even when there is relatively meager evidence and usually without notice to the restrained person.”

These orders have become so commonplace that the Illinois Bar Journal calls them "part of the gamesmanship of divorce.”

Dallas/Ft. Worth criminal defense attorney Paul Stuckle explains:

"Judges pass out ex parte protective orders like Halloween candy. If judges read the estranged spouse's affidavits, it is typically a cursory review. The judges are handed a stack of these ex parte applications when they arrive in the morning, and they usually just rubber stamp them. There is rarely any meaningful judicial review."

This ignores the fact that protective orders--both the Emergency Protective Orders Prop. 13 will apply to or the ex parte protective orders Prop. 13 encourages the legislature to include--often seriously impair men’s ability to obtain legal representation and defend themselves. Protective orders make men homeless and can cut them off from their financial resources. In cases where they work with or near their wives, or operate businesses partly or wholly out of their homes, their incomes can disappear overnight. By contrast, women obtaining protective orders are afforded free legal services by victim advocates at local domestic violence shelters, and remain in the marital home.

The House Research Organization also states:

“The proposed amendment also could have unfair consequences relating to legislation enacted by the 80th Legislature – HB 1988 by Martinez – which allows some protective orders to be in effect for life. This could result in someone being denied bail for one mistake after years of following a protective order.”

Prop 13 is reflective of a dangerous legal trend. Laws and police policies for those accused of domestic violence have been made increasingly draconian, clogging court calendars with weak or evidence-free cases which, were it any other crime, wouldn’t even be acted upon. At the same time, the judicial system hasn’t devoted substantial additional time and resources to investigating and adjudicating domestic violence claims. The result is often assembly-line justice in Kangaroo Courts. Prop 13 will accentuate this trend, and victimize many innocent men and fathers.

Kris Overstreet said...

Whatever the other consequences of Prop. 13, the flat fact of the matter is that abusive spouses, once out on bail, immediately think of one thing: revenge. Many of them work to prevent their victims from pressing charges by promising dire consequences.

I look on Prop. 13 as the accused being denied bail after violating terms of prior bail. If you prove you can't be trusted with your freedom, you shouldn't have it.

Anonymous said...

All propositions passed, so this is a moot point.

Some analysis of this proposition:

please read both the support and opposition comments.

Out for Revenge? Your assumption is that the spouse that made the groundless accusation isn't out for revenge in the first place. I think you need to go through an ugly divorce before you can really understand how far an ex will go to get revenge. I'm not talking about the man on woman parter violence (which seems to be the only offense that that ever matters.) I think this occurs in considerably more cases than the few fatalities.

A violation that occurs by accident, or without harm is reason to incarcerate someone without bail? A phone call to one's kids? Have you read the whole proposition? It's not as simple and limited as presented by it's sponsors in the Statesman. It would not have prevented O'Connor from doing what he did, it would have only accellerated it. Based on your logic, to prevent any more murders, we should immediately outlaw all firearms, since you just never know when someone's going to kill someone, and we have a moral obligation to stop it by any means possible.

An ex-parte order means without the defendant having the chance to present his side of the story, evidence, witnesses, etc. It is wholely unaccoutable.

In my opinion, after reading what Strauss and Reid have written about this, they want justification for more federal money to incarcerate and prosecute, and have a "I'm the champion of the weak" line in their political resume. While they quote a number of deaths up %32 percent, and the number of protective orders issued is up, there is no inication of how many intimate partner deaths occurred WITH a protective order in place, which is what this proposition is about. It doesn't even explain how many deaths occurred, or how many %32 percent would be, or provide the source for the information. No source = worthless data.

As with gun laws, people who have no regard for the law care less about following them. It will just make it happen before the EPO. This law will only punish people who obey the law.

For background: My ex lied to put me in jail to punish me for some perceived slight (actually, for daring to divorce her for being an abusive alcoholic), and solely to have an advantage in the divorce proceeding. Among other things, my ex claimed I threatened her with a gun, and my (non-existent) concealed carry was suspended (let me restate - I've never owned a gun, and I've never had a concealed carry license). My ex would constantly try to get me to violate an ex-parte order, claiming the kids were sick, or something in the house had broke, or that the kids missed me, or whatever emergency she could come up with. She is extremely devious about it, then when I didn't act, would tell the kids (and others) that I don't care about them. The whole time, she was flagrantly violating the TRO. My ex proceeded to sell off as much as she could, without consequence, vandalized my house, intercepted mail and email, interfered with witnesses, ran up debt, refused to pay debt she incurred. Guess who got stuck with the mess. I might consider the bill if it considered ALL violations of temporary orders persuant to a divorce.

The charges were later found to be groundless, but she's done the same thing in 3 other divorces, with great success. Her last victim had to defend himself against 2 felony charges and a misdemeanor that she filed to discredit him from testifying in my case. There was a nice violent police take-down, perfect for presentation on COPS, right in front of this man's son (by another mother). The two felony charges were no-billed (grand jury refused to indict) after some crucial details in the case were found to have been forged. Still, he had to cough up $45k for bail, invest in a defense attorney, and she has made claims that he continues to harass her.

Others have been charged with breaking and entering, sexual assault, injury to a minor, and still no consequence to her. She never had to answer for any of it. She's has been in continuous violation, (and not on any small technicality), of both our temporary and final orders, and has the gall to drag me back in to court.

So much for equal treatment under the law. Because SOME people may have violated the law in the past, should not apply in every case, just because the accuser works up a few tears and says "he scares me, boo hoo hoo".

Each case should be judged on the merits of it's own.

It's like saying "just because someone drives drunk, you now need to have an alcohol interlock on your car, because you might drink and drive".

I know that you feel "men are all bad, evil, spouse beating perverts, and women (and divorce lawyers, cops, etc have absolutely no reason to lie about this.", so I'm not likely to convince you that this bogeyman of yours is a shallow puppet.

There's too much federal money for grants for 'battered women', and it causes a great deal of conflict of interest.

While I hope you never find yourself in that position, I would hope that you ask around and find others that have had their lives destroyed by a false charge or a vindictive spouse.

I understand a need for a deterrent. I understand that the 'showcase' used to demonstrate the need for this is a tragic instance, but it is not the norm.

The deterrent should work both ways, and malfeasance by any party in a divorce should be dealth with, and not just over some 'fear' that the husband is going to lose it. ANY improper action, including disposal or destruction of assets, harassment, or interefering with visitation, false charges, etc, should be dealt with severely. I think I would have more understanding if the proposed bill had some provision to cover false accusations, or to make up for the loss of rights. Mandatory arrest policies for domestic calls mean SOMEONE is going to jail, and it's usually the man. No-drop policies mean once the accusation is made, the runaway train has left the station, no matter if the victim recants, it's going to be prosecuted.

Oh, for what it's worth, my ex went to jail in 2002 for biting me. She got off. Victim services refused to grant a protective order for me, saying 'why should you be worried about a 95 pound woman?' (because a 95 pound woman can kill with a car or firearm as easily as I can). She begged to go to counseling and work things out. A month later, she assaulted me again, then gouged up herself and claimed I assaulted her to keep from being arrested. She's since gotten in my face and gloated that she can put me in jail any time she wants, and it gets easier every time. She's assaulted several people (later boyfriends and husbands), and has found making a false accusation keeps her from being arrested. Claiming that she's 'being stalked and harassed' by the victim, the victim now has the police roughing them up, and now has their life severely restricted.

I have to go through a daily exercise of accounting for my time, whereabouts, and actions. Let me tell you, it's tedious, and it sucks. I have to have cameras on my house, a GPS tracker and DVR in my car, and a tape recorder with me at all times. We can't even exchange the kids without me making sure I have an unimpeachable witness, and that gets old, fast. (btw, I'm the custodial parent)

Want police reports? I have them. Over 24 reports in Austin, plus a handfull in Williamson and another county.

Anonymous said...

The measure grants judges the ability to hold without bail those accused of nonviolent, trivial, or accidental violations of temporary restraining orders.

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