In just two weeks Texans will go to the polls to vote on a number of issues proposed by the legislature of this state. One of those is Proposition 8, “The Texas Water Stewardship Amendment”, a legislatively-referred constitutional amendment. The stated purpose of Proposition 8 is to encourage Texans to use water more efficiently by providing tax incentives for certain landowners to conserve water. The ballot text reads as: “The constitutional amendment providing for the appraisal for ad valorem tax purposes of open-space land devoted to water-stewardship purposes on the basis of its productive capacity.”The Texas Legislative Budget Board issued the following fiscal notes to the House Committee on Ways & Means on April 23, 2011.1. No fiscal implication to the State is anticipated, other than the cost of publication.2. The cost to the State for publication of the resolution is $105,495.3. No fiscal implication to units of local government is anticipated.Proponents of Proposition 8 believe it would “create an incentive for landowners to partner with the state to protect water quality and increase conservation efforts by adding water stewardship to the land uses for which land could be appraised based on its productive capacity to qualify for certain tax benefits. More than 90 percent of Texas water flows through or under land owned by private individuals, and this would encourage those landowners to be good stewards of the water. Proposition 8 would not provide a new tax exemption or lower valuation, but simply would allow landowners who already qualified for open-space valuation some flexibility to use their land in another way.”Opponents argue “Proposition 8 is unnecessary because it would duplicate existing options under wildlife management valuation, mainly erosion control and habitat stewardship. Landowners in Texas also already enjoy several tax breaks, so expanding an existing exemption to include water stewardship would be excessive and unnecessary.”Like most things, the devil is in the details. Unfortunately for us, there are no details at this time.The legislation did provide for a committee, representing a variety of interests, to draft the rules for water-stewardship by which participants will be governed. Nothing has been presented as of this time. Sound familiar? “We’ll pass it then worry about the details.” It stinks whether it’s on the state, national or local level. That small technicality aside, there are other concerns.First, the mentality of those who represent us is on full display when a $105,495 publication fee is of little or no consequence. Also, the legislation is crafted to be revenue neutral to the State but it is certainly not going to be inconsequential to local governments. When 1-d-1 Open Space Appraisal became law, it provided for ad valorem taxes to be based on the productive value of the land rather than the market value. The state developed broad guidelines but left it up to the counties to establish their individual production standards. Since you were being taxed on the productive value of the land, you were to produce something that benefits the greater populace and produce it to the degree of intensity typical to the area. This worked fine until greater numbers of people wanted to buy property in rural Texas. The primary interest in land shifted from production to recreation and conflict arose over the taxable value. The legislature responded with the wildlife management option for maintaining open-space valuation. This provided an avenue for real estate sales to people who did not embrace production agriculture without an additional tax burden being placed on their recreational use. What a deal! Now you can put up bird houses, bat houses and poison fire ants and receive the same valuation as the people who provide us with the highest quality food supply in the world…..and everyone who pays taxes is subsidizing that value.To say there is no fiscal implication anticipated for local governments again puts on display the lack of understanding or the degree of self servitude our legislators espouse in crafting the laws by which we live. Though the revenue side may remain neutral, there are most certainly costs to governments. With a growing population there are growing demands for government services. The resources for emergency care providers, law enforcement, road maintenance, fire fighters, etc., remain stagnant but the demands for services grow exponentially. Proposition 8 was authored by Senator Craig Estes from Wichita Falls and co-authored by Senator Kirk Watson from Austin. The Empower Texans Fiscal Responsibility Index which grades lawmaker performance on “size and roll of government issues” gives both these legislators a failing grade for their performance in the 2011 legislative session.In his 2008 reelection campaign, Senator Estes’ top contributor was the Texas Association of Realtors. In 2004 and 2002 the Texas Association of Realtors again played a prominent part in Senator Craig’s campaign funding. This is the same Texas Association of Realtors that has funded the battle to defeat mandatory price reporting, causing Texas home owners to pick up an ever increasing portion of the property tax burden but that is a story for another day.The connection here is a matter of public record and the motive, crystal clear. Vote as you will but vote with an understanding of the issue.