This week, Texans will head to the polls for the state's off-year constitutional amendment election. Dallas County residents, especially those who live in Dallas, will do some electoral heavy lifting as they vote on the city's $1.05 billion bond package and a controversial measure that could change the way school kids in the county get to class each day.
Before Tuesday's election, let's take a look at what's on the ballot and what's at stake.
Breaking down the bond
Dallas' bond package is split into 10 parts. The biggest chunks are allocated to Proposition A, which proposes that about $534 million in bonds be sold to be spent on the city's moribund streets, and Proposition B, which contains about $262 million earmarked to improve the city's parks and recreation facilities. Other projects in the package include long-awaited security improvements for the city's police and fire stations and cash for future flood-prevention measures and Fair Park maintenance.
The latter proposal is probably the most controversial city item on the ballot. It has raised the ire of critics of the city's handling of Fair Park, including the Observer's Jim Schutze. Opponents of Proposition C — the Fair Park measure — argue that the city shouldn't borrow additional cash for the area's improvement or upkeep until it decides what exactly it's going to do with regard to management of the fairgrounds.
"Who will get the money from ticket sales at Fair Park? Who will benefit from the $50 million?" Schutze wrote last month. "If some private entity is going to benefit from the $50 million, why doesn’t that entity pay some of the $50 million instead of us? Tell the city that after you have all the answers to those questions, you will be happy to vote on taxing yourself to the tune of $50 million for fixing up Fair Park."
Residents upset with the City Council's decision to remove the Robert E. Lee statue from Oak Lawn Park have offered some of most strident opposition to the bond proposals. Those residents are voting against the bond package in its entirety.
"Stop this sideshow. Focus on real city governing. Put Lee back." Jan Howard said at last week's City Council meeting. "Restore public trust. If you don't, the internet has a long memory, and we aren't going away. ... I voted against the bond, and I'm encouraging everyone I know to vote against the bond."
A relic of Dallas County's past
The item on Dallas County ballot that's received the most attention in the run-up to the election is Dallas County Schools Proposition A, which asks Dallas County residents to affirm that they want Dallas County Schools, which operates buses rather than schools, to continue to exist. Critics of DCS, led by Dallas state Sen. Don Huffines, say it's a useless bureaucracy that provides inefficient, unsafe service.
Gary Lindsey, the DCS interim superintendent, says it will cost school districts more to provide bus service once they are stripped of the property tax revenue that DCS brings in.
"If you've got increased costs, that money has to come from somewhere," Lindsey said, "so I think the response is going to be you either reduce service or you increase taxes. There's no other way to get money."
If voters disband DCS, the agency's assets will be split up among the districts to which it provides service. After a two-year transition period, the districts will be charged with providing their own bus services or contracting with outside companies to do so.
The statewide stuff
There are seven proposed state constitutional amendments on Tuesday's ballot. A few of them are very specific. State Proposition 1, for instance would lower property taxes for disabled veterans or surviving spouses of disable veterans in cases in which a charity gave a veteran or family a home for less than market value. Another proposition would allow sports teams' charitable foundations to operate cash raffles at games, something previously limited only to the teams.
There really aren't any hot-button items on the state ballot. Other amendments would make it easier for Texas homeowners to get home equity loans, cap fees on home equity loans and limit the amount of time state appointees can serve after their appointments have expired to the end of the next legislative session.