Update: Prop 6 passed. Read the full story here.
Voters in Texas will have the opportunity Tuesday to weigh in on a proposal to fund water projects in the state. There’s a lot involved that’s not in the ballot language, so we’ve put together an explainer on the amendment.
What is Prop 6 Exactly?
Proposition 6 is a constitutional amendment that would take $2 billion out of the state’s Rainy Day to create two accounts to help fund water projects in the state: the State Water Implementation Fund of Texas (SWIFT) and the State Water Implementation Revenue Fund of Texas (SWIRFT).
The initial $2 billion would be transferred from the Rainy Day fund to the SWIFT. Over time, revenue generated from SWIFT projects would be into the SWIRFT.
The SWIRFT money would then be used to fund even more projects. Together, backers argue, accounts could fund over $25 billion worth of projects over the next 50 years.
The accounts would be managed by the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB). The TWDB would manage the money and make decisions about which projects to fund.
So Who Would Get Money?
SWIFT money would be loaned out to assist in financing various projects from the 2012 State Water Plan, submitted by regional water planning groups. The projects include things like building new reservoirs, fixing pipes, and groundwater development. The legislation behind Prop 6 also stipulates that at least 20 percent of the funds given out would have to be used for conservation and reuse, and 10 percent would have to serve rural areas, which can be put towards agricultural conservation. Neither the proposition itself nor the TWDB offers definitions of what exact projects would be considered “conservation” or “rural” at this point, however.
One of the laws that produced Prop 6, Senate Joint Resolution 1, also stated that the TWDB must adopt a method for prioritizing the projects. Although we don’t know what that process will look like, the TWDB web site says that “many factors would be considered in this evaluation, including the number of people served, the urgency of the project, the ability of local and regional sponsors to support the project, and the degree of conservation achieved.”
There would also be a separate committee to oversee how TWDB manages the SWIFT. This Advisory Committee would be appointed by the Lieutenant Governor and the Speaker of the House. The committee would include the state comptroller, three state senators, and three state representatives.
Who Supports Prop 6?
Supporters of Prop 6 say that Texas needs a water fund to ensure that the state will have enough water to meet its future needs, especially considering recent trends in population and climate.
The recent drought put a significant strain on Texas’ water supply. Most municipalities implemented some form of water restriction, while some communities even ran out of water altogether. With hundreds of people moving to Texas each day, the situation isn’t likely to improve without a comprehensive plan, supporters argue. The state’s reservoirs are currently just over 60 percent full.
Some notable proponents include Speaker of the House Joe Straus (R-San Antonio), the Koch Brothers, and many environmental groups around the state.
So Who’s Against It?
But opponents of the proposition feel that it is fiscally irresponsible. State representative Van Taylor (R-Plano) was especially vocal in his opposition when the legislature was in session.
“I will certainly be one to campaigning across the state against it,” Taylor said earlier this year. “I think there are a lot of conservative groups that see this kind of assault on Texas’ financial health as something that needs to be campaigned against.”
Another criticism is that the water fund could become another example of cronyism and misuse of state funds. There are three new full-time board members of the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB), and all were appointed by Governor Rick Perry. They are also all tied to the governor: Bech Bruun, his former appointments director; Carlos Rubenstein, formerly appointed by Perry to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality; and Mary Ann Williamson, his former appointee to the Texas Lottery Commission. Williamson is also an owner of a natural gas drilling company that Perry has invested in through his blind trust.
Libertarian groups like We Texans and Independent Texans have been vocally against the measure, as well as some environmental groups like Save Our Springs Alliance.
Where Do I Vote?
Election day is Tuesday, November 5. Voting information is available at the Texas Secretary of State’s website. Because of new Voter ID laws, you will need to bring specific photo identification with you to the polls.