The 2023 elections may not have the fireworks of 2024, but there is still plenty up for grabs. In this “off-year,” most of which takes place on Nov. 7, Virginia will be keenly watched, particularly by followers of Gov. Glenn Youngkin and whether he can springboard Republican success into national aspirations. Meanwhile, the governor’s mansion is up for grabs in Kentucky and Mississippi. New Jersey’s Republicans believe they have a real shot at turning the state red in legislative elections, while there are also fierce mayoral and district attorney battles throughout the United States. Voters will also decide several fascinating referendums, particularly in Ohio, Maine, and Texas. This Washington Examiner series, November to Remember, will dive into all of these and more over the following two weeks. Part eight will deal with Texas’s ballot questions.
Texans will have the opportunity to wield their voting power on Nov. 7 to determine the future of 14 conditional amendments on the 2023 ballot. These measures encompass an array of subjects, including more resources for higher education, expanding practices for farmers, increasing the age of retirement for state judges, and a number of taxation considerations.
To participate in the election, Texans must have registered to vote by Oct. 10, and voters have a few days left to vote before Election Day, with early voting running from Oct. 23 to Nov. 3.
Here are the most prominent ballot measures Texans will be voting on.
Proposition 1 — Safeguarding farming and ranching practices
Proposition 1, the Right to Farming, Ranching, Timber Production, Horticulture, and Wildlife Management Amendment, would increase the threshold of state and local regulation of accepted farming and ranching practices. Proponents of the measure argue it would safeguard farmers and ranchers from regulations put in place by neighboring municipalities by preventing them from being sued for carrying out common farming operations and would clarify the scope of possible damages.
“Less than 2% of the U.S. population farms and ranches. That number grows smaller each year,” Texas Farm Bureau President Russell Boening said in a statement. “Just like our other constitutional rights, Proposition 1 will protect the minority — Texas farmers and ranchers — to ensure we can continue to feed the majority. That’s why we need to preserve these rights in the Texas Constitution.”
All 50 states have imposed some “Right to Farm” act in order to protect farmers and ranchers from nuisance actions. While Texas has had such a law imposed for decades, this ballot measure would update the act, focusing on the section of the statute that protects certain agricultural operations from lawsuits.
Opponents of the measure warn the wording of the amendment could be too broad and expands on an already harmful existing law, citing the “right to farm” statute passed in 1981.
“The problem is that big agribusiness uses this legitimate issue to push overreaching laws that are more properly labeled ‘right to harm’ than ‘right to farm,’” the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance and the Humane Society, which oppose the measure, said in a statement. “Small farmers are being used as the poster children for these laws, which give big businesses the unfettered right to spray toxic chemicals and confine tens or hundreds of thousands of animals in a small area, polluting the air and water.”
Proposition 3 — Prohibiting wealth and net worth tax
Proposition 3, the Prohibit Taxes on Wealth or Net Worth Amendment, would add a provision that bans the imposition of an individual wealth or net worth tax. The bill was approved by the Texas legislature in May.
Republican state Rep. Cole Hefner wrote the proposal. The law “would allow the people of Texas to decide whether or not they want a direct say in the possibility of a net worth tax being imposed by the legislature,” according to the statement of purpose for the amendment.
Texas is one of eight states without a personal income tax as of 2023, and Proposition 3 is designed to keep the Lone Star State on that list. The other states that have no personal income tax include Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Tennessee, Washington, and Wyoming.
The Texas American Federation of Teachers and Every Texan have both registered in opposition to the amendment. Every Texan, an Austin-based nonprofit policy institute, argued the constitutional amendment is “supported by self-serving state leaders, freezes future Texas lawmakers’ options to make investments in our state’s most valuable asset, our people. A constitutional prohibition on a state wealth tax would also limit Texas’ ability to diversify state revenue sources and adapt to evolving economic challenges.”
While Texas holds a reputation as a “low tax state,” low-income households pay more of their income to taxes than any other group in the state. According to 2018 research from Texas A&M University, the top 20% of earners in Texas spend half as much of their income on housing as those in the bottom 20%. Every Texan also said those with “the lowest incomes pay an average of 17% of their earnings in state and local taxes, three times more than what the wealthiest pay (4.75%).”
Proposition 5 — Texas University Fund
Proposition 5 would create the Texas University Fund, benefiting schools such as the University of Houston, Texas Tech University, University of North Texas, and Texas State University.
The amendment creates a new permanent endowment, as the current permanent fund does not support a number of research schools, Texas Higher Education Commissioner Harrison Keller, who serves as the CEO for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, told the Washington Examiner.
“The permanent university fund only supports UT Austin and the UT system and Texas A&M. It does not benefit University of Houston, Texas Tech University, Texas State University, or the University of North Texas,” Keller said.
The fund would start with nearly $4 billion, which includes $3 billion investment from a surplus in the state legislature and $896 million from the state’s National Research University Fund.
Keller said this new fund has been years in the making, recalling Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R-TX) push to raise more Texas universities into the nation’s top 10 public universities during his campaign for governor.
“The legislature has created different funds to support the research development and innovation activities at our universities,” Keller said. “But those efforts have tended to be smaller.”
“So this grew out of conversations in the interim about how to use the surplus strategically in ways that would benefit the state decades ago,” Keller added. “One of the issues that will be important to Texas remaining competitive is being able to compete at the frontiers of knowledge and information and technology.”
Texas Southern University, a historically black university, was not among the universities to benefit from the endowment.
“The hurdle to get into that $3 billion endowment is so high that it will take us a substantial amount of time to even get there,” Texas Southern University Regent James Benham said in an August board meeting, per the Houston Chronicle. “And by the time we get there, they will probably move the requirements, just to be totally honest with what will probably happen.”
The requirements for a university to gain eligibility to the endowment include reporting at least $45 million in yearly research expenditures, which Texas Southern University cannot do. Universities must not receive funds from the current permanent university funds and have spent $20 million in private or federal research funds by Sep. 1 or determined by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board after Sep. 1, 2024.
Proposition 13 — Increasing retirement age for state judges
Proposition 13, the Increase Mandatory Retirement Age for State Judges Amendment, seeks to raise the retirement age for state justices and judges. Currently, state judges must step down at 75, but this amendment would extend the mandatory retirement age to 79. The law would also increase the minimum retirement age from 70 to 75.
If passed, the additional four years would make Texas’s mandatory retirement age for judges the second highest in the country. Texas is one of only eight states that use partisan judicial elections to select judges, meaning voters can elect or kick their justices out of office for candidates who run under a party affiliation.
“We will likely be losing some great jurists with decades of experience and stable judgment,” Jack Walker, vice president of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association, told the Houston Chronicle. “We also have the benefit of electing our judges in Texas. Thus, any instability issues with a particular judge can be taken care of by our electorate.”
In a long-shot bill earlier this year and the previous legislative session, Texas lawmakers introduced a measure to attempt to remove the mandatory retirement age of 75 for judges and justices across the state, but the efforts led nowhere.
According to the Texas Politics Project, the average age of judges in Texas, ranging from justices on the state Supreme Court to those on the Court of Criminal Appeals, is 55 years old.
Proposition 14 – Centennial Parks Conservation Fund
Proposition 14, Texas’s Creation of the Centennial Parks Conservation Fund Amendment, would create a fund designed to finance the creation and improvement of state parks in Texas. In celebration of the 100th anniversary of Texas state parks, Proposition 14 would create a $1 billion fund without creating a new tax.
The Texas Coalition for State Parks, which consists of about 90 organizations, is leading the campaign in support of the measure, and Joseph Fitzsimons, the coalition’s co-founder, told the Washington Examiner the fund is needed to keep up with the demand of Texas’s state parks as they attract nearly 10 million visitors annually.
“Current and future generations deserve to experience Texas’s great outdoors,” Fitzsimons said. “Earlier this year, legislation to the Centennial Parks Conservation Fund on the ballot passed both chambers of the Texas legislature with overwhelming bipartisan support. Lawmakers have allocated the $1 billion investment to secure and develop new State Parks without raising taxes — now it’s up to Texas voters to approve it.”
The bill received bipartisan support from the Texas legislature, and if voters approve it, the conservation fund would be the largest investment in natural land in Texas history.
Below is a quick breakdown of the other measures that will be on the ballot:
Proposition 2 — Create local property tax exemptions for child care facilities, with proponents noting businesses have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
Proposition 4 — Provide property tax relief by lowering what homeowners pay to school districts in property taxes and raising the homestead tax exemption from $40,000 to $100,000.
Proposition 6 — Create a new $1 billion Texas Water Fund to fund projects, improve infrastructure, and address water loss.
Proposition 7 — Establish the Texas Energy Fund to fund loans to upgrade or create gas-fueled power plants.
Proposition 8 — Form broadband infrastructure to expand and improve high-speed internet projects.
Proposition 9 — Allow cost-of-living adjustments for certain retired teachers by moving $3.3 billion in general funds into the Teacher Retirement System of Texas.
Proposition 10 — Exempt equipment of medical or inventory or biomedical product manufacturer from property taxes.
Proposition 11 — Issue bonds supported by property taxes to be used to improve parks and recreational faculties. This measure is specific to El Paso County only, but it will appear on all state voters’ ballots.
Proposition 12 — Abolish the Galveston County treasurer position, with supporters arguing it’s no longer a needed position and the money for the role could go back to taxpayers through county improvements. This measure is specific to Galveston County only, but it will appear on all state voters’ ballots.