AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The GOP-controlled Legislature has left Texas voters to decide this week whether a growing population, booming economy and an ongoing drought are worthy of tapping $2 billion from the state's rainy day fund to deal with forecast water shortages.
Proposition 6, which would create the State Water Infrastructure Fund, is among nine constitutional amendments on the ballot for Tuesday's election. The water measure has attracted the most media attention and campaign funds of the proposals, with support coming from business and environmental groups alike. Some conservatives, though, oppose using the state's savings account to finance large-scale construction projects, while others are concerned the money could be misused.
"These constitutional amendment elections don't trend on Twitter, and they're not big ratings winners on cable television, but they are very, very important," House Speaker Joe Straus said in urging El Paso voters to support the bill.
Experts insist Texas needs to capture more fresh water to meet demand, at least 2.9 trillion gallons by 2060. The 2012 State Water Plan calls for 562 projects, with 34 percent of the water coming from conservation and reuse, 17 percent from new major reservoirs, 34 percent from other surface supplies and 15 percent from other sources.
The constitutional amendment would create a water infrastructure fund as an account available to buy down the cost of borrowing money to build large-scale projects such as reservoirs, long-distance pipelines or replacing old leaky water lines in order to boost conservation. Authorities using the money to issue cheaper bonds would have to pay the fund back over time.
Supporters say this revolving account will help leverage the $53 billion needed to implement the state water plan and guarantee Texas will meet the needs of a growing economy and population over the next 50 years.
The issue would likely be debated again in the 2015 legislative session if the measure fails.
Gov. Rick Perry has barnstormed the state for the amendment and each of the two top candidates vying to replace Perry next year when he steps down — Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott and Democratic Sen. Wendy Davis — support it.
A vocal voice against the measure is tea party favorite David Simpson of Longview who says it "unnecessarily expands state government into investment banking."
"Intervention in the market by the state will no doubt favor some at the expense of others," Simpson wrote in urging voters to oppose the measure.
Also, Linda Curtis, director of the advocacy group Independent Texans, said in a statement that "career bureaucrats will determine which projects are built, which investment bankers, lawyers, engineers, construction firms and consultants are hired to work on them."
Also before voters, Proposition 1 would provide property tax breaks to the spouses of military veterans killed in the line of duty. No. 2 seeks to eliminate requirements for a State Medical Education Board and a State Medical Education Fund, neither of which is operational.
Proposition 3 would extend tax exemptions for aircraft parts brought into the state for resale, while No. 4 provides property tax exemptions for disabled military veterans and their spouses.
Proposition 5 seeks to expand "reverse mortgage" lending, No. 7 would allow the appointment of city leaders when an elected official resigns with less than a year left in office, and No. 8 asks voters whether to increase the taxing authority of a Hidalgo County hospital district.
Proposition 9 would expand the powers of the state commissioner on judicial conduct.