Houston’s November ballot is quickly taking shape, and a new PAC has emerged to push forward Mayor Sylvester Turner’s agenda ahead of the fall election.
Lift Up Houston PAC’s website is welcoming and seemingly well-intentioned – except the proposals they are pushing will have current and future taxpayers on the hook for the foreseeable future.
“We are Houstonians coming together to pass seven city propositions that are critical to reforming our city finances and providing opportunity to every Houstonian,” reads the “Who We Are” section.
Campaign finance reports have yet to be made available, so the PAC’s funding remains uncertain, but the treasurer is listed as Barry Barnes, of what was formerly Barnes & Turner Law Firm. Also, the address listed for Lift Up Houston is the P.O. Box that was associated with Turner’s mayoral campaign fundraiser.
Of the seven propositions listed by the pro-Turner PAC, only two have been previously publicly discussed: $1 billion in pension obligation bonds and the repeal of the voter-imposed property tax cap.
So, what are the five others?
They come in the form of “improvement bonds,” which will be five separate propositions totaling $490 million. According to the website, they will be used for city improvements like upgrading police and fire stations, parks and playgrounds, service centers, clinics, and libraries.
If this is Turner’s plan, he deserves credit for allowing line-item voting on the initiatives – but not on much else.
The mayor’s argument for repealing the tax cap has always been that the cash-strapped city needs more money to fund necessary services, and his argument for his pension reform plan was that Houston couldn’t sustain such high unfunded liabilities.
Houston is still cash-strapped and unfunded liabilities are still high, but now he wants to take on half a billion dollars’ worth of additional debt.
“Passing these propositions will make Houston safer, create new jobs and make our economy stronger – all without raising taxes,” reads the website. That statement doesn’t seem plausible as the website breathlessly moves on to the next item on their wish list, a repeal of the property tax cap.
Make no mistake, a repeal of the tax cap is a vote for a tax increase – especially when there are $490 million in bonds thrown into the mix.
We all know that local governments across the state claim to oppose tax increases. But by not reducing tax rates to the revenue-neutral effective tax rate, governments are in fact increasing tax burdens on property owners and even renters – collecting more tax revenue from the same base.
Turner’s plan of issuing improvement bonds and removing the tax cap may not be as much of an inconvenience on those in areas like Kingwood and River Oaks, but the most affected will be the city’s least and last.