(November 8, 2021 — Austin, Texas) Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF), Grassroots America – We the People, and True Texas Project (TTP) filed a lawsuit against the Texas Secretary of State, John B. Scott, challenging the constitutional amendment known as Proposition 2. The suit contends the ballot language presented to Texas voters on November 2, 2021, failed to comply with common law requirements and asserts the ballot language was substantially misleading due to the removal of the phrase ‘ad valorem tax increases.’ State law requires that a proposition be described “with such definiteness and certainty that the voters are not misled.” Blum v. Lanier, 997 S.W.2d 259 (Tex. 1999). The lawsuit seeks the remedy of Governor Greg Abbott declaring the election on Prop 2 void.
Prop 2 would authorize counties to create Transportation Reinvestment Zones (TRZs) that give them the authority to issue bonds and use property tax increases for repayment of those bonds. A virtually identical proposition was put before Texas voters in 2011 known as Proposition 4 and voters rejected it when the phrase ‘ad valorem tax increases’ was included.
TURF, Grassroots America, and TTP believe this was intentional since the legislation, HJR 99 authored by Rep. Terry Canales (D – Edinburg), and its stated purpose and intent includes the phrase, but the ballot language expressly does not. Senator Bob Hall tried to amend HJR 99 in the senate to restore the original ballot language for the identical legislation from 2011, but the amendment failed.
“The legislature intentionally chose to mislead voters in order to get it passed this time around. Former House Transportation Committee Chair Joe Pickett even stated as much when Prop 4 failed in 2011. He cited the phrase ‘ad valorem tax increases’ as the problem for voters. So instead of abiding by what the voters decided, they chose to deceive voters, keeping them in the dark as to the tax impact,” observed Terri Hall, Founder/Director of TURF.
“It’s this sort of deceptive ballot language that angers voters and makes them think twice about participating in these off-year elections out of fear they’re going to be tricked into voting for things they didn’t intend to had the plain meaning been obvious.”
The Republican Party of Texas and the House Freedom Caucus also opposed Prop 2. Additionally the Republican Party of Texas 2020 Platform includes several planks opposing virtually every aspect of TRZs. Planks #178 & 179 favor limiting and even abolishing property tax. Plank #176 opposes special taxing districts like TRZs. Three more planks (#s 50, 159 & 206) also address the issues of higher taxes and more bonds.
The suit points out that “Texas has some of the highest property tax burdens in the nation. Among the 10 most populous states, Texas’ local debt per capita ranks as the 2nd highest total, behind only New York. In light of these circumstances, Proposition 2’s omission of any mention of its relationship with local debt and property tax burdens misled voters about its chief features.”
Ballot language comparison:
Prop 4 in 2011 said: “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 (emphasis ours) imposed by the county on property in the area. The amendment does not provide authority for increasing ad valorem tax rates.”
Prop 2 in 2021 said: “The constitutional amendment authorizing a county to finance the development or redevelopment of transportation or infrastructure in unproductive, underdeveloped, or blighted areas in the county.”
TURF, Grassroots America – We the People, and True Texas Project sent this letter to the Secretary of State prior to the election requesting a change in the ballot language… and stating they’d file a lawsuit to contest the election otherwise.