The state of Alabama is generally the brunt of jokes around much of the rest of the country, largely because of its low rankings in various categories. The state does have something in common with Texas, though, and that similarity is no joking matter. Both states currently find their namesake battleships deteriorating near major commercial ship channels. Like the U.S.S. Texas, the U.S.S. Alabama has a long and rich history including action during pivotal battles of World War II. Dedicated volunteers in each state, who realize the importance of preserving history, have launched efforts to restore the ships and protect them from additional corrosion.
The Alabama group has received some support from the state, in the form of dedicated license plates, with a portion of the proceeds going to the restoration project. In 2003 it completed a four-year project that included building a cofferdam around the battleship, pumping out the channel water and repairing the hull. The approximately $15 million for the project was raised primarily through private donations and park admission fees.
Texans have a different option for preserving their piece of naval history, and will have a say in the success of that project through their votes during this year’s constitutional amendment election. Proposition 4, which would allow the issuance of bonds to repair the Texas as well as provide funding for much-needed restoration projects at our state parks, is one of 16 amendments up for election on Nov. 6. And if early voting numbers are any indication, voters are all waiting for the 6th, or turnout at polling places is going to be woefully low.
With 16 different propositions for voters to choose from, there is a lot of information for the public to digest. Amendments can be tricky, because the wording is very important and is not always as clear as some of us think it could or should be. In other words, voting “yes” does not always mean “yes.”
Some of the propositions drawing attention are No. 6, which would exempt ad valorem tax on one vehicle that is used for both personal and professional use. Realtors are urging voters to vote yes on the proposition, primarily because they do so much work from their vehicles. Native Texan and 7-time Tour de France champion — although he prefers the title cancer survivor — Lance Armstrong has toured the state and lobbied for Prop. 15, which would establish the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas and also authorize up to $3 billion worth of bonds to be issued. All told, the 16 propositions would authorize up to $9.75 billion worth of bonds.
Proposition 4, which stands to benefit not only the U.S.S. Texas, but also state parks throughout the system, including Lake Brownwood State Park, is perhaps the broadest of the amendments. In addition to the parks projects, it would also fund the construction of three new state prisons. But it is the park system that stands to benefit the most. Neglected for years as its operating and maintenance budget have been the cut, the voters have repeatedly told lawmakers in Austin that they will support the parks — and have voted to allocate money in the form of higher sales taxes to be dedicated for them.
Critics say the projects don’t merit the debt that will be created, and they are probably hopeful that voters continue to remain away from the polls. That’s because anyone who has visited the U.S.S. Texas knows what a crime it would be to allow the ship to continue to deteriorate at its berth. Any camper, hiker or boater who has visited a state park knows how much value parks provide to the state. Almost every family has been touched by cancer, wants to see their ad valorem taxes limited and deserves to know how their elected state officials vote on legislation. Those reasons make the support of several propositions very important to the future of our state, and provide ample reason for every registered voter to make voting this year a priority.
Bill Crist is associate publisher of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Wednesday. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.