Dave Montgomery Austin Correspondent
AUSTIN – Drought-weary Texans gave overwhelming approval to an initiative to confront the state’s water needs for the next half-century as they trooped to the polls Tuesday to add nine new amendments to the state’s 137-year-old constitution. Proposition Six, which had more than 73 percent of the vote in late returns, would create a state revolving fund capitalized by a $2 billion withdrawal from the state’s rainy day account to help finance more than $50 billion in water projects midway through the 21st Century. The proposal had widespread bipartisan support from state political leaders and was backed by rhe business community in Fort Worth and other parts of the state to assure Texas of adequate water resources to meet the state’s burgeoning population in the decades ahead. “Tonight was a great night for Texas,” said state House Speaker Joe Straus as he joined scores of other Proposition Six supporters at the Rattle Inn bar-restaurant in downtown Austin to cheer passage of the amendment.
In a Tuesday statement, after the amendment to the Texas Constitution known as Proposition 6 passed by a wide margin, Perry said “the people of Texas made history.”
He said the vote will ensure “we’ll have the water we need to grow and thrive for the next five decades, without raising state taxes.”
Eight other initiatives sent to voters by the 2013 Legislature were also winning approval, in some case by margins of nearly six-to-one. . A proposition to provide property tax exemptions for the spouses of fallen service members was passed by 87 percent to 13 percent, according to nearly complete returns. The initiative, Proposition One, was authored by Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie. Also winning approval, by a vote of 58 percent to 42 percent, was Proposition Three, which would extend an inventory tax exemption on aircraft parts.
The amendment, which had strong support within the North Texas defense industry, would allow aerospace and aircraft companies to warehouse parts in the state for up two years without incurring a property tax penality, subject to approval by local governments. The state’s current “Freeport exemption” law allows property to remain on-site for up to six months before it is subject to inventory taxes but aerospace officials say they often need to keep big-ticket items – such as aircraft engines – on site for a much longer period of time. Proposition Six was by far the election’s headliner, embraced by Gov. Rick Perry and other state leaders to avert a potential water shortage that they said could erode the state’s robust economic growth.
“We’re very pleased that Texans have voted to take this allocation from the Rainy Day fund to spur the development of infrastructure to deliver adequate water supply to our homes, schools and businesses” said Bill Thornton, president and CEO of the Fort Worth Worth Chamber of Commerce. “This measure will help ensure continued economic growth and prosperity in Texas as we attract more businesses, employees and their families to our state.” Signs of controversy over implementing the water plan began emerging almost immediately after the polls closed as one environmental group said it would try to block the proposed Marvin Nichols Reservoir near Sulphur Springs, which is included in the State Water Plan as a future reservoir to supply water to the North Texas region that includes Fort Worth and Dallas. Luke Metzger, executive director of Environment Texas, said the reservoir would flood 25,000 acres of rare bottomland if it is allowed to be completed. “We don’t want it to be built at all,” said Metzger.
Metzger, whose group was part of the multi-faceted coalition that embraced the initiative, hailed its passage by voters, but said Environment Texas will keep a watchful eye to ensure that at least 20 percent of the projects focus on conservation under an agreement made by lawmakers before the amendment went to voters. Money for the projects won’t become available until the Texas Water Development Board and regional planning groups adopt rules and meet certain milestones for implementing the amendment and companion legislation, said Merry Klonower, communications director for the water development board. “The thing we’d like to emphasize…is there will be a lot of opportunities for citizens to participate in the process and we hope they do.” Proposition Six had active support from chambers of commerce in North Texas, who say that maintaining adequate water supplies is essential to ensuring continued economic growth. State water planners have warned that Texas would lose roughly $116 billion in potential income by 2060 if it does nothing to meet its future water needs. “With this loan enhancement to existing bonding authority, contractors can get moving faster on some critical long-term projects,” said Thornton. “When water supplies are in question, every day counts. Despite recent rains, including a Halloween downpour that flooded a residential section in southeast Austin, most of the state has yet to recover from a prolonged drought that has forced millions of Texans to curtail lawn-watering and take other conservation measures. Eighty-percent of the state was still in drought as of late last week, according to the Texas Water Development Board, and some sections of Texas have been dealing with drought conditions since 2009. Statewide, the state’s reservoirs are 62.5 percent full on average, well below the norm of 80 percent. Nearly all of North Texas, including the Metroplex, is considered in moderate to severe drought.
There was little serious organized opposition to the water amendment, although some tea party groups mounted a “Nix Prop Six” effort to protest the withdrawal of money from the rainy day fund. One opponent was conservative activist Debra Medina of Wharton, who challenged Perry for governor in the 2010 Republican primary and is now gearing up for a run at the state comptroller’s post. The initiative would create the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas (SWIFT), which would be seeded with a one-time $2 billion transfer from the rainy day fund, officially known as the Economic Stabilization Fund. Money from SWIFT would be available to provide low-interest loans, longer loan repayment terms and deferral of loan payments, according to an analysis of the amendment by the House Research Organization. A second fund created by the initiative – the State Water Implementation Revenue Fund for Texas (SWIRFT) – would be used to manage revenue bonds issued by a restructured Texas Water Development Board to implement projects under the state water plan.
The plan, compiled by the state’s regional water organizations, calls for a combination of strategies – including conservation and new reservoirs – to guarantee that Texas will have enough water to support the state’s continuing spike in population through 2060. The estimated cost of meeting just a quarter of the state’s long-term needs is $53 billion, including $27 billion in state financial assistance. The initiatives further altered the much-revamped 1876 Constitution that Texans ratified after the Reconstruction period that followed the Civil War. Over the past 137 years, Texans have added 483 amendments, including the nine approved on Tuesday. -Includes material from the Associated Press
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texans voted on nine proposed constitutional amendments during the Nov. 5 statewide referendum. Here is a summary of the amendments:
— Proposition 1: Provides property tax breaks to the spouses of military veterans killed in the line of duty. APPROVED.
— Proposition 2: Eliminates requirements for a State Medical Education Board and a State Medical Education Fund, neither of which is operational. APPROVED.
— Proposition 3: Extends tax exemptions for aircraft parts brought into the state for resale, APPROVED.
— Proposition 4: Provides property tax exemptions for disabled military veterans and their spouses. APPROVED.
— Proposition 5: Expands “reverse mortgage” lending. APPROVED.
— Proposition 6: Authorizes the state to tap up to $2 billion from its savings account to create the State Water Infrastructure Fund. APPROVED.
— Proposition 7: Allows the appointment of city leaders when an elected official resigns with less than a year left in office. APPROVED.
— Proposition 8: Increases the taxing authority of a Hidalgo County hospital district. APPROVED.
— Proposition 9: Expands the powers of the state commissioner on judicial conduct. APPROVED.