Texas Voters Say `Yea' to More Jail Space
AUSTIN, TEXAS — THE conservative trend in Texas continues.
Five months after sending a second Republican to the United States Senate with a landslide victory, voters in Tuesday's off-year election approved anticrime measures and claimed the right to approve income taxes. They also spurned a landmark environmental initiative and one to aid minority- and women-owned businesses.
Texans voted for the fourth time since 1987 to borrow money to build more prisons. The billion-dollar bond issue will allow the addition of 22,000 new jail beds by 1995. Existing facilities are so crowded that prison officials are forced to parole violent criminals who have served only a fraction of their sentences. Even the new beds will not suffice, though. Officials estimate that another 42,000 will be required by 1999.
By a 9-to-1 margin, voters Tuesday also authorized the denial of bail to suspects accused of certain violent or sexual offenses while on probation or parole for prior felonies.
In Houston, Mayor Robert Lanier won a second two-year term with more than 90 percent of the vote in the nonpartisan race. During his first term, Mr. Lanier delivered on his promise to repair streets, beef up the police force, and cut police response times and crime rates.
Almost 7 in 10 Texans voted to take away the Legislature's power to pass a state income tax without their approval. The proposition also said if such a tax is enacted, two-thirds of the revenue must go to reducing school-district property taxes and the remainder to education. Some conservatives opposed the measure because they believe that legislators will be emboldened to propose an income tax.
Texans also turned thumbs down to borrowing $50 million to assist in the creation of minority- and women-owned businesses.
In Travis County, a liberal bastion that is home to the state government, residents rejected the chance to buy 12,000 acres of parkland at an average cost to homeowners of $15 a year for 20 years. The vote against the $48 million bond issue is a likely fatal setback for the Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan (BCCP), which Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt praised recently as the historic equivalent of the creation of New York City's Central Park.
The product of five years of torturous negotiations among environmentalists, officials, and the business community, the BCCP was supposed to establish an unbroken swath of habitat for endangered songbirds and insects while allowing real estate development elsewhere in the fast-growing county. Absent the plan, developers must address the presence of endangered species tract by tract, with a resulting undesirable fragmentation of habitat.
While rejecting the $49 million BCCP bond, Travis County voters did approve borrowing $68 million to expand county jail space by 1,000 beds.