If you voted, and if you scrolled all the way to the bottom of the electronic ballot, you probably saw one lonely proposed amendment to the Texas Constitution.
Our State Constitution requires amendments thereto to pass by popular vote. They're easily confused with county and municipal bond elections, but they have greater long-term impact on the state and less immediate impact on your tax bill. These propositions can be among the hardest votes for Texas voters to cast, for a whole combination of reasons:
- They deal with issues that are abstract to most people.
- They often involve mechanisms for spending over multiple years, and most voters have only a vague idea of what the state government typically spends in a year, so they have no sense of proportion.
- The proponents always seem to hire semantics wizards to come up with summaries, for placement on the ballot, that obfuscate the whole purpose of the amendment. Exempli gratia, "The proposed Constitutional amendment to forbid the sale of marital aids to elephants" could be hiding language detailing multiple exceptions or age requirements for the sale of elephant sex toys; indeed, the amendment may have precious nothing to do with sex toys or elephants.
- Even when you read the official, long-form language of the proposition, it rarely has a definitive partisan ring to it: They rarely deal with issues like reproductive choice or renewable energy or tort reform.
- Et cetera, ad nauseam.
I have met people who actually consider these votes easy, because they automatically assume that all these propositions are methods for soaking average taxpayers and enriching the financial elite--especially bond elections, which always provide healthy commissions for bond brokers.
The proposed amendment concerns maintenance and repair of our state's roads. It does not specifically address the building of new roads, but it may imply it. It asks that the state use oil and gas revenue to pay for enhancing our infrastructure by diverting half the petro-revenue that would normally wind up in the Rainy Day Fund (aka Economic Stabilization Fund) to the State Highway Fund.
That's it. There are no new taxes involved. The Comptroller would be responsible for making the transfer every year until the amendment's repeal.
There are plenty of reasons to vote for or against the measure. The first obvious con is the sheer amount of dollars lost to the Rainy Day Fund, and anyone who has been following the increase in disaster attributable to climate change knows that we may have some very Rainy Days on the horizon. Other principled objections might involve priorities: Let's use this money for public transit projects or education, you might say, and I might agree.
The lists of officials and organizations advocating this measure do not fall into any specific ideological camp, although Chambers of Commerce are heavily represented. I wish Ballotpedia had listed some officials and organizations opposed to it, because there are bound to be some. To my knowledge, the Green Party of Texas has not released any statement supporting or opposing the proposition.
After some deliberation, I have decided to vote Yes. My reasoning is complicated. The timeliness of the amendment is paramount: Texas is in the midst of a fracking boom. Besides driving housing prices in Odessa sky-high, and besides sickening everyone living within half a mile of a well, one of the boom's most obvious impacts is the sheer number of heavy trucks hauling gas around the state, from the shale fields to the refineries and elsewhere. They're also hauling equipment, fracking fluid, and fracking wastes, and they're tearing up Texas roads in the process.
As ugly as fracking may be, I believe our state would be foolish not to maintain its existing network of highways, on which people and goods will travel even after the boom goes bust. Unless someone finds a major loophole, this is a way of making energy companies fix the roads they are chewing up.
I'll be interested to read your comments below.