New Braunfels Herald Zeitung (Newspaper) - October 26, 2005, New Braunfels, Texas
Page 6A — Herald-Zeitung — Wednesday, October 26, 2005PROPOSITION I
The constitutional amendment creating the Texas rail relocation and improvement fund and authorizing grants of money and issuance of obligations for financing the relocation, rehabilitation, and expansion of rail facilities. (HJR
54 - Sponsors: McClendon and Staples)
This amendment, if passed, would authorize the Legislature to create a dedicated fund, the Texas Rail Relocation and Improvement Fund, to be administered by the Texas Transportation Commission, for relocating, modernizing and expanding both publicly and privately owned freight and passenger rail facilities. Funds for the rail projects may come from the sale of bonds, as well as from general revenue that is not dedicated for other purposes. The source of funding and size of the fund would be determined by the Legislature. In addition, the enabling legislation (HB 1546) requires that no bond obligation can be issued before the Texas Department of Transportation develops a strategic plan outlining how funds would be used and how the state would benefit.
Texas has more at-grade rail crossings than any other state in the nation. As more hazardous cargo passes through heavily populated urban areas, their safety has become an issue. In the effort to maintain profitability following deregulation in 1980, rail industry investment iii infrastructure has lagged behind the needs of a growing population and the demands of ever-increasing freight traffic. The current rail infrastructure is insufficient to maintain rail’s market share and keep freight off the highways.
It has been projected that $20 billion will be needed to relocate and modernize existing rail facilities in Texas over the next twenty years. The Legislative Budget Board estimates the general revenue fund will pay $87.5 million per year in debt service, and $11 million in fees for each billion dollars in bonds. Costs to local governments would depend on the size and type of projects to be constructed in their areas.
• The proposal may help relieve congestion on public highways, improve air quality, and enhance safety at railway crossings.
• The new and upgraded rail corridors would foster economic development.
• Savings to the highway fund that is currently used for improving rail crossings and related expenses would offset a portion of the cost of this program.
• Each billion dollars in bonds will require debt service and fees of almost IOO million per year, which is a huge long-term commitment of state funds.
• There are many more cost-effective and direct ways to improve air quality than financing rail facility improvements.
• Railroad companies are realizing higher profits that should allow them to reinvest in infrastructure without public assistance.PROPOSITION 2_
The constitutional amendment providing that marriage in this state consists only of the union of one man and one woman and prohibiting this state or a political subdivision of this state from creating or recognizing any legal status identical or similar to marriage. (HJR 6 - Sponsors: Chisum et a1, and Staples)
In 2003, the Texas Legislature enacted the “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA) which makes marriage between persons of the same sex, or a civil union, void in this state. The act also states that Texas will not recognize a same-sex marriage or civil union, regardless of the jurisdiction in which it was created.
Lawsuits challenging DOMA laws are pending in other states and in the federal courts, so several states, including Texas, are now choosing to protect their DOMA laws by passing constitutional amendments.
If passed, this amendment would state that marriage in Texas consists only of the union of one man and one woman, it would also prohibit the state or any political subdivision from creating or recognizing any legal status that is identical or similar to marriage.
The joint resolution proposing this amendment contains a statement of legislative intent that allows the appointment of guardians, rights to property, hospital visitation, and the designation of life insurance beneficiaries, “without the existence of any legal status identical or similar to marriage.” But this will neither be part of the constitution nor in any statute, and thus should have no effect on judicial interpretation of the proposed amendment.
• A constitutional amendment would prevent court challenges to the current law against same sex marriage or civil union. Eighteen (18) other states have constitutional amendments with similar definitions of marriage, and others are working on them.
• The proposed amendment would not prohibit same sex couples from continuing their lifestyles.
• Changing the constitution to define marriage and ban same-sex marriages is not necessary to set legal principals, as there is a statute already prohibiting same-sex marriages.
• Texas should provide equal protection to all its citizens and should not discriminate against a group of citizens in the state constitution.PROPOSITION 3
The constitutional amendment clarifying that certain economic development programs do not constitute a debt. (HJR 80 - Sponsors: Krusee and Ogden)
HJR 80 amends Section 52-a, Article III of the Texas Constitution. This section allows the legislature to create statutory programs for economic development, including grants and loans. It is implemented by Chapter 380 of the Local Government Code. The purpose of these grants and loans is to create jobs. The programs are usually long-term so the granting agency can ensure the funds are protected. Any financing for these economic development programs that is backed by ad valorem taxes requires voter approval. If any loans or grants for these programs are not secured by a pledge of ad valorem taxes, then they do not create a debt.
A recent trial court case ruled that under another section of the constitution, any grant program lasting longer than one year does result in an unconstitutional debt, and therefore requires special financing such as bonds or certificates of obligation. This amendment would clarify that loans or grants made under this section, not secured or financed by ad valorem taxes, do not constitute or create a debt.
• This amendment clarifies existing practice, allowing it to continue.
• This tool is needed to attract development and create jobs.
• The amendment allows for the continuation of long-term grants and loans for economic development without voter review.
• When a local government creates a long-term obligation, voter approval should be required.