Election Day Rundown Leaves You No Excuse Not to Vote

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The fate of the embattled Dallas County Schools is on today’s ballot – but several other important things are on there, too (Photo courtesy Dallas County Schools).

Today is Election Day, and since there aren’t any candidates, very few will likely bother to vote, despite the fact that some very important things are on the ballot.

How can I say that with such confidence? Early voting totals show that a little more than 2 percent of registered voters in Dallas County have voted so far.

I don’t think it will get much better today.

In the off chance that you haven’t voted yet and weren’t planning to, I thought I’d outline what your Dallas County ballot will look like, and what you’ll be voting on. Full disclosure: I waited until today to vote as well.

This isn’t meant to be endorsements of any of the measures on the ballot, but instead is a rundown on what you will see. We’ll go in the order the measures are found on the ballot, too.

State Constitutional Amendments

Proposition Number 1 (HJR 21)
Prop 1 would allow partially disabled veterans or their surviving spouses to claim property tax exemptions on homes donated to them by a charity for less than market value.

The aim of the tax is to fix an unintended consequence of the current tax code, which doesn’t allow a veteran who paid for part of the cost of a donated home to claim a property tax exemption. The change would allow the veteran to take the exemption from taxation of a percentage of the market value of the home equal to the veteran’s disability rating, provided the veteran paid no more than 50 percent of the market value of the home.

The idea is to clarify the intent of an existing law and provide this exemption to all veterans who receive a donated home, regardless of whether they paid for part of it.

Nobody really opposes this clarification, but opponents are quick to point out that they feel this is a band-aid to avoid more substantive effort to reduce property tax burden for all citizens.

Proposition Number 2 (SJR 60)
This proposition would attempt to lessen the restrictions on borrowing against your home equity and would allow homeowners easier access to that equity. It also lowers the maximum fees in connection with home equity loans, although certain charges are exempt from that maximum.

Primarily, it would cap the fees at two percent of the loan principal and would exclude the cost of appraisals, title insurance premiums, title examination reports, title insurance, and property surveys.

It would also allow a home equity loan to be refinanced as a non-home equity loan, secured by a lien against the property in some cases, which is currently not allowed. It would also repeal a provision that would prevent additional advances on a home equity line of credit if the unpaid principal is more than 50 percent of the fair market value.

It would also lift a prohibition on home equity loans for homesteads with agricultural use, and would expand the list of approved home equity lenders by adding subsidiaries of banks, savings and loans, savings banks, and credit unions, and replace mortgage brokers with mortgage bankers and companies.

Those for this measure feel that it would reduce the barriers homeowners face when trying to access their equity, and would allow lenders to make loans under $100,000 more easily, and would allow homeowners to find a credit solution that will allow them one payment or lower interest rates if they found a non-home equity loan at some point. Proponents also like that ag homesteads will be able to access their equity just like any other homeowner.

But those against it say it will actually raise costs for borrowers by adding costs for appraisals, surveys, and other reports on top of a two percent fee cap would actually make the total cost higher than the current three percent cap.

Opponents also say that consumers will lose valuable protections because a new home equity loan with protections related to foreclosure and protections against non-home assets is better than a non-home equity loan, which does not have those protections.

And farm operating loans and lines of credit are actually cheaper than home equity loans and lines of credit for agricultural properties, thanks to the added costs for appraisals, surveys, title insurance, and other reports.

Proposition Number 3 (SJR 34)
Currently, all of those people appointed by the governor to state boards, commissions, and councils (as well as task forces) are required in the state constitution to perform the duties of their office until successors are tapped.

The new proposition would change that, and would have unsalaried appointees whose terms have ended serve only until the next legislative session has ended.

Supporters feel that the measure would allow the governor’s office plenty of time to find a successor for any post, but would also prevent cases where appointees remained in office long after their terms expired.

Opponents feel it will create a boondoggle where many positions will remain unfilled.

Proposition Number 4 (HJR 6)
Prop 4 would require a court to notify the state attorney general when the anyone files litigation that challenges the constitutionality of a state law. Courts would have to wait 45 days after providing notice to entering a judgment holding the statute unconstitutional.

Those for the proposition say it means the state has ample opportunity to defend the constitutionality of its laws, and that the amendment would not change the state’s separation of powers doctrine or restrict courts from striking down laws.

Opponents say that the amendment does, in fact, undermine the separation of powers doctrine, which posits that each branch of the government should be able to work without interference from another branch. They also argue that the state should not interfere with a citizen’s right to pursue and receive relief from unconstitutional laws.

Proposition Number 5 (HJR 100)
Prop 5 would expand what it means to be a “professional sports team” and would allow more team-connected foundations the ability to hold charitable raffles.

Supporters say this expansion would allow more teams to be able to bring in charitable revenue, which would go to the communities they’re in. Opponents say the current law prevents the creation of entities just for the purpose of having charity raffles, and that the proposition expands gambling in Texas by increasing the number of raffles sports teams can have.

Proposition Number 6 (SJR 1)
Prop 6 would give property tax exemptions to surviving spouses of first responders killed in the line of duty. It would allow the legislature to give a partial or total homestead exemption to the spouse, provided the spouse had not remarried since the first responder’s death.

This would give property tax exemptions to surviving spouses of first responders killed in the line of duty.

Supporters arguments are that surviving spouses of first responders killed in the line of duty should be treated the same as surviving spouses of veterans killed in the line of duty, and shouldn’t be faced with the possibility of losing their home. Opponents argue that while the recipients may be deserving, additional property tax exemptions create a burden that requires local governments and school districts to raise property taxes.

Proposition Number 7 (HJR 37)
Currently, state law prohibits lotteries and raffles – with exceptions for charities and religious organizations. Prop 7 would allow banks and other financial institutions to conduct raffles and other promotional activities if they encourage savings.

Banks and other financial institutions would be able to have these promotions that would award a prize to one or more of the institution’s depositors, selected by drawing.

Proponents say that since more than one-third of Texans don’t have savings accounts or emergency funds, something has to happen to encourage it, and that other states who have allowed banks to hold raffles and similar promotional activities have seen an uptick in savings. The account holder would not lose money and could withdraw their funds at any time.

Opponents say that it’s a bad precedent to allow one industry the ability to have non-charitable raffles, and that this proposition only opens the door for other industries to ask for the same ability.

City of Dallas Bond Election

After talking to people who vote, I’ve determined that there are three schools of thought when it comes to the $1.05 billion bond package on the ballot: those that are pissed off about Robert E. Lee and are going to vote against the whole thing period; those that will be voting a la carte, choosing to vote for some things (like streets, libraries, and/or parks), and not for others (like Fair Park); and those that are voting for it all.

  • Proposition AProjects for Prop A include traffic signals, alley reconstruction work, bridge repair, sidewalks, street reconstruction, and street resurfacing throughout the city. Price tag: $533,981,000.
  • Proposition B. This proposition would include projects for downtown parks, an aquatics master plan, The Loop, rehabbing recreation centers, trails, and neighborhood parks. Price tag: $261,807,000.
  • Proposition C. A Fair Park facilities needs assessment would be conducted if Prop C passes, and would include restoration, maintenance, painting, drainage, lighting, plumbing repairs, carpeting, ADA accessibility, electrical repairs, and HVAC repairs at the Hall of State, Music Hall, African American Museum, Texas Discovery Garden, Tower Building and other areas of Fair Park. Price tag: $50,000,000.
  • Proposition DThis proposition addresses storm drainage and flood protection throughout the city, including the Vinemont Channel Improvement Project. Price tag: $48,750,000.
  • Proposition EProp E funds the construction of the new Vickery Meadow branch library, the replacement of the Forest Green branch library, and improvements at the J. Erik Jonsson Central Library. Price tag: $15,589,000.
  • Proposition FProjects to rehabilitate 20 of the city’s cultural centers and venues will be funded by the bonds from Proposition F, including the Majestic Theatre, the Meyerson Symphony Center, the Latino Cultural Center, and the Performance Hall at Fair Park. Price tag: $14,235,000.
  • Proposition GThis proposition will provide security improvements to the Jack Evans Police Headquarters and seven police substations. It will also replace two fire stations, build a new fire station, and rehab several other fire stations. Price tag: $32,081,000.
  • Proposition HMultiple city facilities (including City Hall) will be rehabbed and receive major maintenance with the funds from Prop H. The West Dallas Multipurpose Center will also be expanded. Price tag: $18,157,000.
  • Proposition I. The funds from Prop I will go to revitalizing certain commercial corridors, transit-related development, mixed-income housing, mixed-use development and neighborhood revitalization projects. Price tag: $55,400,000.
  • Proposition JHousing for the homeless – especially elderly, disabled and families with children –  will tap into this fund, as will day centers for the homeless. While the language on the ballot is vague, it is not for building more shelters, but instead, will go to creating new housing units for the homeless or housing insecure. Price tag: $20,000,000.

Dallas County Schools Proposition A

Yes, I know. It’s confusing to have a City of Dallas Bond Election Prop A, and a DCS Prop A. But it is what it is, and rest assured that you won’t possibly get the two confused on your ballot because there are eleventy hundred other measures between the two.

Now, that being said, if you’ve breathed air and eaten food in the last year, you are probably well aware of what has brought the embattled Dallas County Schools to the point of having the voters give the thumbs up or down on whether it exists anymore.

Now, some things to understand: DCS is not the same thing as Dallas ISD (I can’t tell you how many people have written or grabbed me by the elbow to bend my ear about this think that the two are interchangeable). DCS is a taxing entity that serves chiefly as a school bus vendor for many school districts located in Dallas County. Dallas ISD is one of their customers.

And the second thing you should understand is that you vote yes if you want DCS to stick around, and no if you want it to go away. This may seem confusing, but just think of it as Ceasar’s thumb deciding the fate of a gladiator, and all will be well.

As for how you should vote – it’s really a matter of deciding how many chances you feel willing to give.

Many feel that the agency is doing its best now to weed out the folks that got them in the mess they’re in, and that it’s working to create fail-safes to make sure the financial malfeasance that’s dogged them will be a thing in the review mirror.  The work it is doing now, those folks say, should earn DCS a chance to regain public trust.

But many also feel that a clean break now may be for the best. They cite audits that show substantial losses, the DCS debt being downgraded by Moody’s to junk status and a budget for this school year that shows an $8 million deficit as harbingers of doom and doubt that the agency can continue. Better to systematically dismantle, one person said, than wake up one morning and find that DCS is unable to send buses out to students.

Later tonight when polls close, we’ll be over on our Facebook page with continuous coverage. In the meantime, if you haven’t voted, you can find your polling place here. Polls close at 7 p.m.

Bethany Erickson is the education, consumer affairs, and public policy columnist for CandysDirt.com. Contact her at bethany@candysdirt.com.