Voters Get Say on 10 Constitutional Amendments
Written by Bill Conrad, email@example.com
The future of state-issued college loans is in the hands of Texas voters.
A proposed amendment to the Texas Constitution would allow the sale of bonds to fund the Hinson-Hazlewood College Student Loan Program is one of 10 items on the Nov. 8 ballot. Other items include a provision to extend tax exemptions to the surviving spouse of totally disabled veterans and an item dealing with the process of distributing money from the permanent school fund.
Since 1969, the State Legislature has sold more than $1.8 billion in bonds to finance the college loans. The state expects the current money for the program to expire in 2013, making the issuance of new bonds necessary. State-funded student loans may become even more important as Federal lawmakers consider cuts to financial aid.
“With this new debt commission, everything is on the table,” said State Sen. Royce West, the bill’s author. “They are looking to cut entitlement programs and are also looking at education funding. From that vantage point, higher education is going to be on the chopping block. One of things that is going to be on the block is research, but then they will look at financial aid.”
A summary of the proposed amendment provided by the House Research Organization said the need for the loans is paramount due to the competitive nature of the loan process.
“The fixed rate currently charged by the coordinating board for its College Access Loans, which is one of the loans that comprises the HH loan program, is 6 percent,” the summary reads. “This is one of the most competitive student loans in the country. Student demand for low-interest loans with stable rates is increasing as access to other financial aid programs is constrained by fiscal challenges.”
West said during tough economic times, many people choose to go back to school to further their education and increase their chances of being hired. He said people are trying to push “the refresh” buttons on their education and may be in need of financial aid to make that happen.
The lack of available student loans is only one issue facing students. Another is large tuition increases at many universities.
At the state’s largest, the University of Texas at Austin, the power to set tuition was changed from the Texas Legislature to the UT System Board of Regents in 2003. According to statistics from UT-Austin and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, in the fall of 2002, on average, it cost students $1,975 to take 15 hours at UT-Austin. In 2011, 15 hours of tuition cost an average of $4,897, an increase of 148 percent in less than 10 years.
State Sen. Florence Shapiro said the Legislature has to look at selling bonds for student loans every four to six years. She said the loans are self-supporting and have some of the lowest interest rates among any loans students apply for.
“What this does is assist those college students who need a little help financially,” she said. “Sometimes all the students need is a little extra money to finish off their education, and this does that.”
Another amendment on the ballot would provide benefits to the surviving spouses of some disabled veterans.
Currently, veterans who are classified as 100 percent disabled are not required to pay property taxes of residential homesteads. However, when the veteran dies, the exemption does not transfer to their spouse, which would be changed if the proposition passes.
“We have had this discussion many times in the past,” Shapiro said. “I think this session, more than any I have served in, veterans and the military were front and center in everything we did. In times like these, when we have people all over the world sacrificing their lives, we owe this to them.”
Analysis by the House Research Organization said many disabled veterans spend their final years worrying about the fate of their families and the legislation would “provide them with some measure of peace of mind.” The same analysis contains comments by the bill’s opponents, which say at a time when many programs are underfunded, exempting property is not the way to go. Although the comments are attributed to opponents of the bill, when the bill was passed no legislators voted against it.
Early voting begins Oct. 24 and concludes Nov. 4.
The following is a full list of the proposed amendments, in the same order and with the same language they will have on the November ballot.
“The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to provide for an exemption from ad valorem taxation of all or part of the market value of the residence homestead of the surviving spouse of a 100 percent or totally disabled veteran.”
“The constitutional amendment providing for the issuance of additional general obligation bonds by the Texas Water Development Board in an amount not to exceed $6 billion at any time outstanding.”
“The constitutional amendment providing for the issuance of general obligation bonds of the State of Texas to finance educational loans to students.”
“The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to permit a county to issue bonds or notes to finance the development or redevelopment of an unproductive, underdeveloped, or blighted area and to pledge for repayment of the bonds or notes increases in ad valorem taxes imposed by the county on property in the area. The amendment does not provide authority for increasing ad valorem tax rates.
“The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to allow cities or counties to enter into interlocal contracts with other cities or counties without the imposition of a tax or the provision of a sinking fund.”
“The constitutional amendment clarifying references to the permanent school fund, allowing the General Land Office to distribute revenue from permanent school fund land or other properties to the available school fund to provide additional funding for public education, and providing for an increase in the market value of the permanent school fund for the purpose of allowing increased distributions from the available school fund.”
“The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to permit conservation and reclamation districts in El Paso County to issue bonds supported by ad valorem taxes to fund the development and maintenance of parks and recreational facilities.”
“The constitutional amendment providing for the appraisal for ad valorem tax purposes of open-space land devoted to water-stewardship purposes on the basis of its productive capacity.”
“The constitutional amendment authorizing the governor to grant a pardon to a person who successfully completes a term of deferred adjudication community supervision.”
“The constitutional amendment to change the length of the unexpired term that causes the automatic resignation of certain elected county or district officeholders if they become candidates for another office.”
See original story http://www.scntx.com/articles/2011/08/30/news_update/9698.txt
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