The hell is that, you ask? Well, since Texas adopted our State Constitution back in 1876, we've gone to the polls to consider more than 600 Constitutional amendments ranging from property taxes to public beaches to bureaucratic housecleaning. Many times these amendments are so bland, dry or obscure that only the wonkiest of wonks make the effort to go to the polls for them. But sometimes, as in 2005, when a Constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman effectively banned the possibility of gay marriage in the State, the general public finds the motivation to make it to the polls. (Side note: a Texas couple recently sued in federal court to prevent Texas officials from enforcing the measure).
This cycle is not one of the flashier ones, save for the much ballyhooed Proposition 6, which would signal the first real, state-led effort to confront our water woes. Also, disabled vets, their families, and the families of those killed in action, should take interest in the two related propositions dealing with an ad valorem tax exemption that would be made available if ratified by voters.
But let's get back to Prop. 6, which would take $2 billion from the Rainy Day fund to create a State Water Implementation Fund of Texas and a State Water Implementation Revenue Fund of Texas. SWIFT and SWIRFT would be managed by the Texas Water Development Board and the funds would finance projects from the 2012 State Water Plan. It's not specifically mentioned in the ballot language, but 20 percent of the fund would go toward conservation and 10 percent to rural areas. While many lawmakers, including our own Joe Straus (who created a PAC to help pass Prop. 6), Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis and her likely main opponent Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, support the Proposition, it has garnered some notable opposition as well.
Former Current editor and noted environmental journalist Greg Harman discusses the drawbacks on his website Lone Star Green. While the entire post is insightful, Harman's most compelling argument can be found in this paragraph: "The water crisis being amplified by two political action committees largely funded by energy and chemical companies reliant on large volumes of cheap water ignores the fact that the TWDB still has $360 million in bonding authority granted by voters in 2001 and $6 billion more granted in 2011—more than enough to cover all of the projects the the plan says should be tackled by 2020. Despite the slick marketing, this is not a vital vote to secure your future. It’s a vote to loose the state’s purse strings too early on a vastly imperfect plan."
Watchdog site Texans for Public Justice recently released a paper questioning whether this move wouldn't just create "the next Perry slush fund," now that the TWDB is stocked with the lame-duck Guv's
cronies personal appointees, noting, like Harman, that the Straus-created PAC donor list is littered with energy industry heavyweights.
As Harman also mentions, and I've heard from conservation-minded activists like Alyssa Burgin of the Texas Drought Project, the Water Plan initiatives focus largely on massive infrastructure projects with comparatively little money or thought given to the sea-change in water and energy conservation that will make up a large piece of any success Texas may have in permanently reversing its water woes.
On the other hand, Environment Texas director Luke Metzger, long one of the most energetic and dedicated defenders of environmental issues in the state, has written an op-ed for the Houston Chronicle advocating for Prop. 6, and the Texas chapter of the Sierra Club also unanimously supports the effort.
If you make it to the polls today, as ever, vote your conscious, but do so skeptically. Unfortunately, it seems that when Republicans line up to champion what at first blush appears like a lefty, tree-hugging dream, stricter scrutiny should apply. And remember to bring your photo ID, thanks to the allowance of our new, poorly thought-out Voter ID law. Visit the Bexar County elections page for more information.