AUSTIN — Texans approved dedicating $2 billion to the state water plan on Tuesday, while Houston residents re-elected their mayor and decided the fate of the Astrodome in the first statewide election where officials checked voters’ photo IDs.
Early voting was nearly double what it was two years ago, prompting Republican officials to declare that concerns about the voter ID requirement were overblown. Despite those figures, only about 1 million out of 13.4 million Texas voters were expected to cast their ballot.
Voters overwhelmingly approved nine proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution, including the water measure, an expansion of reverse mortgages, and tax credits for disabled veterans and the surviving spouses of veterans killed in the line of duty.
Houston Mayor Annise Parker easily won re-election against eight challengers for a third and final two-year term. Houston weathered the recent recession better than most major cities and, with 2.1 million residents, continues to be the largest city in the United States led by an openly gay person.
Houston voters were deciding whether to turn the shuttered Astrodome into a convention center; residents of north Austin were voting to fill an empty Texas House seat; and residents of the Houston suburb of Katy were choosing whether to approve what would be the state’s most extravagant high school football complex, at a cost of $69 million. Results for those measures were not yet in two hours after polls closed.
The water measure attracted the most visibility and campaign funds, drawing support from business and environmental groups. The measure moves $2 billion from the rainy day fund to its water infrastructure fund to help defray the borrowing costs on large-scale water infrastructure projects, including creating reservoirs, laying new pipelines and replacing older ones.
In Bell County, the measure passed 72 to 28 percent.
Some conservatives oppose using the state’s savings account to finance large-scale construction projects while others were concerned the money could be misused.
Texas House Speaker Joe Straus called the results “a resounding and overwhelming victory” for the bipartisan campaign that he championed.
“I think you saw stakeholders who don’t always agree with one another come together in a very collaborative way,” Straus said at a campaign party in a downtown Austin bar. He called for the state comptroller to transfer the funds as soon as possible.
Environmentalists also praised the result.
“We’re thrilled that Texas voters have chosen to invest in Texas’ water future,” said Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas, a statewide advocacy group. “Texas is in a water crisis, caused by drought and made worse by wasteful water use.”
Earlier Tuesday, Connie Dean was part of a slow trickle of West Texans voting at a Lubbock elementary school. The 74-year-old retiree didn’t have any issue with the new voter ID requirements, but she wasn’t so sure she liked tapping the state rainy day fund.
“I was a little iffy but I went for it” despite the price tag, she said.
Voters were asked to present one of seven forms of photo identification — such as a driver’s license, a passport or a military ID — to cast ballots.