Texans Pass Planned Transfer of Land Funds to Schools, AP Says

Texas voters passed a constitutional amendment to let the state direct at least $300 million a year more to schools from land and properties owned by a public endowment, according to the Associated Press.

Voters favored the measure by about 51 percent to almost 49 percent, with about 89 percent of precincts reporting, according to results posted today on the Secretary of State’s website.

The measure would change the way the fund’s market value is determined, to include investments and cash derived from real estate, and the calculation of an annual distribution to schools, said Jim Sudyam, a spokesman for Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson. He oversees the fund’s real estate holdings. Most of the Permanent School Fund’s holdings are in equities and fixed-income securities, and it is valued at about $25 billion.

Patterson had opposed the change until legislators imposed the $300 million cap on annual distributions of revenue derived from land, Sudyam said. “The commissioner believes that the fund didn’t get to be $25 billion by spending out of it whatever you can spend today,” he said.

Supporters said passage of the changes also would provide about $75.4 million to schools in each of the 2012 and 2013 fiscal years by increasing assets subject to a legal cap on allocations from the fund, according to a summary by the House Research Organization, a nonpartisan legislative agency in Austin. The agency said it would permit the transfer to schools of as much as $300 million a year in revenue derived from land.

Short-Term Fix

Opponents said the changes would provide a short-term fix to the state’s budget crisis while harming schools and the endowment fund over the long term, according to the House Research agency. Foes also said the direct transfer of property-related revenue isn’t needed because a state agency overseeing the land involved already manages it to provide a return to the endowment through annual distributions.

The endowment, which dates to 1854, aids schools and guarantees their debt. It became a focus of attention when lawmakers revised funding formulas in June and shortchanged schools by more than $5 billion to help balance the two-year budget.

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