Democracy in Action

Dr. Malcolm Cross

Early voting for amendments to the city charter and the state constitution is now underway.  This column reviews recommendations for voting on both local propositions and 3 of the 14 state propositions.  But however you choose to vote, you should vote anyway.  

Over the last two weeks I’ve discussed two proposed amendments to the Stephenville city charter.  I’ve argued that voters should reject Proposition 1, which, if passed, would eliminate two seats on the Stephenville city council.  It seems to me that as Stephenville grows in size and complexity, we need more democratically elected officials studying and making public policy, not fewer.  Reducing the council’s size would increase the power of unelected officials to dominate the decision-making process by exercising more control over the flow of information to the democratically elected council members.

On the other hand, we should vote for Proposition 2 to increase the number of consecutive terms a city council member may serve from 2 to 3.  To do so is to give democratically elected council members more time and opportunity to study and master the issues before the council so that they can make better fact-based decisions.  But the voters would still retain the power to vote someone off the city council at the end of his first or second term if they disagree with his policy choices.

In short, voting AGAINST Proposition 1 and FOR Proposition 2 protects and expands the power of democratically elected officials to exercise leadership.  During my 14 years on the city council I found all the city managers, department heads and other officials with whom I worked to be public servants of integrity and ability.  But if democracy is to thrive in Stephenville, protecting and expanding the ability of democratically elected city council members to discharge their duties must take priority.

There are several proposed amendments to the state constitution which also deserve consideration.  Three in particular would have a direct effect on our taxes, depending on whether they’re passed or rejected.  In each instance I recommend that citizens vote to minimize overall tax increases.

Proposition 2, in the words of Ballotpedia, would, if passed, allow the state constitution to “allow local governments to exempt child-care facilities from property taxes.”  It’s principal sponsor, Senator Royce West, has argued that its passage would increase the number and availability of child-care facilities, and therefore the ease with which working parents can participate in the workforce.  But to exempt a particular business or industry from property tax payments means either revenue will decrease or the property taxes of others must increase to make up for the revenue lost from cutting taxes on childcare facilities.  Voters should REJECT Proposition 2.

Proposition 3 would, if passed, would “prohibit a wealth or net worth tax.”  This is different from a state income tax, which the state constitution already bans.  The imposition of a wealth tax would require the taxpayer to pay a tax on the value by which his assets increased, even if he derived no income from the increase.  For example, suppose I buy $ 10,000 worth of stock, it doubles in value, and I then sell it for $20,000.  I’ve made a profit of $ 10,000 which the federal government counts as income on which I must pay income tax.  But if Texas were to adopt a wealth tax, I would be required to pay tax on the $ 10,000 increased value of the stock, even if I sold none of it and earned no income from it.  Supporters of a wealth tax, who therefore oppose Proposition 3, say its supporters of Proposition 3 are simply trying to help the super-rich, like Elon Musk, protect their assets from taxation.  But Proposition 3 would protect everyone’s wealth from taxation and prevent the imposition of a new tax.  Citizens should SUPPORT Proposition 3.

Proposition 4 is probably the most widely publicized of all the proposed constitutional amendments on the upcoming ballot.  It would “increase homestead tax exemption to $100,000 [for calculating the taxable valuation of a home for the imposition of ISD property taxes] and increase state funding for public education.”  You’ve probably seen how passage of Proposition 4 may cut your local property tax bill dramatically if you’re a homeowner who’s received the tax bill from the county tax collector.  Your property tax has been calculated as if Proposition 4 has already passed.  I noted that my own property taxes had been slashed by about a third over last year’s assessment.  However, the bill also warns that should Proposition 4 be defeated, we’ll receive supplemental tax bills for the rest of what we would owe under current tax rates.

Recommending passage of Proposition 4 may seem like an easy call, given that it will lead to an actual and immediate property tax cut, without any smoke-and-mirrors blather about tax rate cuts, which rarely produce real cuts in the actual tax bills.  But two warnings should be offered:

First, the tax relief we’ll get from the increased homestead exemption, which reduces taxable home values, is only temporary.  Eventually, inflation will not push up the values of our homes anyway, and ISDs will be confronted with higher costs for personnel, goods, and services with which to provide public education.  So property taxes will resume their relentless climb.

Second, the plan of the state to spend an additional $12 billion in state tax revenue to help local school districts cope with the loss of property tax revenue may ease their financial burdens, at least for the short run, but as the state supplies more revenue to local ISDs, it will make local school districts more dependent on the state, and thereby give the state more power over their decisions.  Whether this is good or bad is debatable.  But those who favor more local control over school districts should be wary and concerned for the potential growth of state power.  However attractive cutting local property taxes may seem, those who support the tax cut should do so with their eyes open. 

In sum, it is recommended that one vote as follows.

Local Proposition 1 (reducing city council size):  NO

Local Proposition 2 (3 consecutive terms for city council members instead of 2):  YES

State Proposition 2 (tax exemption for daycare facilities):  NO

State Proposition 3 (Wealth tax ban):  Yes

State Proposition 4 (Increased homestead exemption and more state aid to ISDs):  Yes

And whether you agree or disagree with the above recommendations, you should vote your conscience.  After all, others will be voting to shape public policy which will affect you, so why shouldn’t you vote as well?

Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton from 1987 until 2023. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present).  He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014.  He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.

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