Houston voters approved two ballot initiatives that are financially unsustainable.
Proposition A reauthorizes more funding for Rebuild Houston even though the mayor and city council cannot account for $800 million in missing funds that were otherwise diverted from Harvey relief efforts.
Proposition B increased firefighter pay by 25 percent, setting up a potential court fight over the legality of the measure. And Mayor Turner may follow through with his pledge to lay off more than 850 firefighters and scores of other city workers to accommodate what he repeatedly has called the measure’s “unaffordable” cost.
The legendary Houston reporter and columnist Bill King explains why voters should have rejected Proposition A:
Since no one at the City had the intestinal fortitude to debate Proposition A, I am left to make the closing argument directly to Houston voters.
In 2010 the proponents of Rebuild Houston promised us if we would agree to a $100 million per year tax increase, the City would increase its spending on streets and drainage and reduce its debt. These promises were supposedly guaranteed because the drainage fees would be placed in a “lockbox” and because the City would go to “pay-as-you-go” financing. Neither has happened primarily because the “lockbox” turned out to be illusory.
Thanks to Ted Oberg at Channel 13, we now know that in the five years prior to the adoption of Rebuild Houston the City spent more on streets and drainage than in the seven years after Rebuild’s adoption.
Proposition B was bad for Houston, because if implemented, would cause property taxes and other taxes to skyrocket. The City projects that it would cost taxpayers $98 million every year, initially giving firefighters a pay increase of at least 25 percent, and smaller raises the following years if/when police get raises. And– this is after the Council Council approved giving them a 9.5 percent raise– which they rejected. Instead they want the taxpayers to fund a 25 percent increase.
Mayor Turner explained that Proposition B does not do what the city needs most: fire station modernization and health and safety program improvements.
The referendum excludes funding for both and does not replace or upgrade failing firefighting vehicles.
“Keep in mind that more than 80 percent of fire department costs go to providing emergency medical services rather than putting out fires,” Turner writes. “What’s needed is a restructuring of the department to meet these demands, which Proposition B does not do.”
Hopefully, and regrettably, the mayor will follow through on his promise and balance the budget that is sustainable for taxpayers, which means cutting jobs– the opposite of what voters intended because they refused to accept the unsustainable financial costs.