If you ask State Representative Sid Miller his opinion on the 11 proposed amendments that will be on the Nov. 3 ballot, he will tell you there are those he would support in better economic times.
Miller (R-Stephenville), who is currently serving his fifth term, was the keynote speaker at a recent meeting of the Erath County 912 Project in Stephenville. Miller offered legislative insight on the proposed amendments.
More than 100 citizens attended the meeting and Miller said he was “encouraged by the large turnout” and also said it was evident that there is “something in the air that is encouraging people to get involved in their government.”
Getting down to the business of the pending election, Miller said since the Texas Constitution was enacted in 1876, more than 630 proposed amendments to the governing document have been presented to voters, 176 of which were defeated.
He also explained once the proposed amendments pass the required two-thirds vote in both houses of the state legislature, they also require enabling legislation. He said the enabling legislation is normally attached to the proposed amendment there, but there are cases when the enabler is killed due to lawmaker “shenanigans.” Miller pointed to an amendment that voters previously passed by an “overwhelming majority” to allow property tax exemptions for disabled veterans. Due to the so-called “shenanigans” the 81st Legislature was required to pass the enabler.
The amendment authorizes city and county governments through financing, including tax hikes, to purchase buffer areas around the military installations to prevent encroachment and to allow for construction to benefit the installation.
While Miller is a “big military supporter” and Fort Hood, the largest military installation in the free world is within his district, Miller said he will vote against the proposition, calling it “an infringement on property rights.”
Other opponents have argued that authorizing local governments to issue such bonds and to pledge to raise taxes to repay the debt would result in a higher tax burden on property owners.
On the flip side, supporters have said military installations must be protected from encroachment and acquiring buffer areas is an investment in the economic stability of local communities and the state.
The enabling legislation was not passed by the 81st Legislature and if voters approve the measure, the enabler must be passed in a subsequent legislative session.
Amendment No. 2
The amendment authorizes the legislature to provide ad valorem taxation of a homestead solely on the property’s value as a residence homestead.
Miller explained that appraisal districts currently have three methods for evaluating property - by its highest and best use, actual value or by income production.
Miller said homeowners often move into a property in a residential area, which later goes commercial and appraisal districts later determine the property would best be used for commercial development and appraise the home as such. If the amendment is passed, homes would only be appraised at their actual value.
“I don’t think (the value of) a homestead should go up 200, 300, 400 percent or more,” Miller said.
Opponents have said the amendment could reduce local government tax revenue, and when a school district’s wealth per student value goes down, the state’s obligation to the district would increase and add to the “already tight” funding at the state level.
The enabling legislation, House Bill (HB) 3616, was passed in the most recent legislative session.
Amendment No. 3
The amendment provides uniform standards for the appraisal of property and Miller said it “makes a lot of sense.” He also said appraisal procedures vary widely across the state - a property in one county is sometimes appraised differently than a similar property in another.
The proposed amendment would allow the legislature to strengthen state oversight of appraisal districts but the system for obtaining the uniformity has yet to be determined since the legislature did not enact enabling legislation. The issue would be left to a future legislative session.
Amendment No. 4
The amendment would establish a fund within the state to allow for the development of more nationally recognized research institutions. Currently Texas is home to only two, Texas A&M and the University of Texas at Austin.
While Miller sees the benefits since many students leave Texas to study in other states such as California, which is home to more than triple the number of such universities, he feels due to current economic conditions, it would not be a “financially sound” decision.
“They are getting our best and brightest,” Miller said. “But we would have to rob from one fund to establish the fund. It is a good idea, but a bad time.”