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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas voters have proved they are more than willing to spend big bucks on future water projects — but not on sports stadiums.
In Tuesday's most-watched decision, voters statewide approved $2 billion to finance ambitious drought-fighting initiatives meant to help ensure Texas can meet the needs of its booming population and growing economy for the next 50 years. But those in Houston refused to authorize $217 million in bonds to convert the long-shuttered Astrodome into a convention center — likely dooming the iconic venue to the wrecking the ball.
And, in the well-to-do Houston suburb of Katy, voters rejected a bond package that would have provided $69.5 million for a new, 14,000-seat high school football stadium. The failed measure went on the ballot one year after the Dallas suburb of Allen opened a $60 million high school stadium.
The off-year Election Day's other big winner, meanwhile, was openly gay Houston Mayor Annise Parker, who took a majority of the votes cast despite facing eight challengers to secure a third and final term leading America's fourth-largest city.
With its about 2.1 million residents, Houston remains the nation's largest city led by an openly gay person.
The election was the first in Texas under a new law requiring voters to show one of seven forms of picture ID, such as a driver's license or passport, at the polls. The measure was passed in 2011 but had been delayed by a series of court challenges.
Only about 1 million out of 13.4 million of the state's registered voters participated, but that, coupled with stronger-than-expected early voting turnout, was enough for key Republican officials to say concerns that the voter ID rule could cause voting headaches were overblown.
Democrats and civil rights groups have again sued to block the law, but the case is still pending. Cases of in-person voter fraud are rare. Critics of voter ID legislation say the laws aim to disenfranchise voters who tend to back Democrats.
But Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is running to replace Gov. Rick Perry in 2014, said critics had "run out of claims" about alleged hardships the mandate would create.
Voters overwhelmingly approved all 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.
In the four-way race for an empty Texas House seat anchored in north Austin, Republican Mike VanDeWalle and Democrat Celia Israel advanced to a January runoff.
Tuesday's water referendum attracted the most visibility and campaign funds, drawing support from business and environmental groups alike. It moves $2 billion from Texas' rainy day fund cash reserves 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.
Some conservatives opposed using the state's savings account to finance large-scale construction projects while others were concerned the money could be misused.
Still, the results were far from a surprise since Gov. Rick Perry and most of the state's top Democrats and Republicans cheered the referendum — citing the ongoing effects of a punishing drought in much of the state.
Texas House Speaker Joe Straus said of the result: "Tonight was a good night for Texas."
"There's no doubt the drought and its cost to the economy has been very palpable," Straus, a San Antonio Republican, said at a campaign party in a downtown Austin rooftop bar. "And I think it was a powerful, powerful message to voters and a powerful message sent by the Legislature that we will step up to our challenges in a fast-growing state."
Passing a proposed constitutional amendment that had to be approved by voters allowed the GOP-controlled Legislature to increase funding for major future water projects without raising taxes.
Straus said he expects 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."