Like many cities in the United States, Houston is facing increasing financial pressure as the result of debt spending. A large percentage of our generated revenues are currently being used to service debt acquired to pay for projects and programs purchased on credit (bonds). There are no easy or quick solutions but I am committed to working toward a balanced budget and a debt free city.
I would like to see Houston change its budgetary process away from its current habit of using “projected” revenue and move toward a zero based budget process.
The projected revenue model, currently used by the City, relies on anticipating increases in sales tax and property tax increases, which may or may not actually occur, and then uses this “guestimation” to determine the amount of available revenue on which to base the coming year’s budget. A zero based budget process relies on proven revenue from the previous year. The zero based budget process also requires each department within the city to start with zero dollars and justify the need for each dollar requested. Should the city realizes a growth in revenues the excess revenue would be available for payment on debt principal, or restored to the general budget for use in the next year’s budget cycle.
We have made promises in the past to our retired and current city employees. We must fulfill those promises.
However, in the future, we may have the opportunity to control much of the future debt, from unfunded liability associated with city pension funds, by using a private sector model of retirement programs for future employees. These type programs are very popular and productive in the private sector.
One option that I would entertain is the movement of the city away from defined benefits packages for employees toward a self directed defined contribution retirement program, similar to a 401K type of plan. This type of plan would place the employees in control of their own retirement and would be entirely portable for the employee. This type of program would effectively limit the city to a financial contribution of known quantity that could be easily budgeted.
The ability to safely and quickly travel from one place to another is vital to the growth of any city. Houston is no exception. Without doubt we need to work on our transportation issues. While I do believe in exploring the possibilities I am, at present, opposed to light rail for Houston. I am not aware of any plan utilizing light rail that does not require a large commitment to subsidize the endeavor with tax dollars. Further, the location of large employment centers at great distances from one another presents challenges that I think could better be solved, in the short term, with increases in bus routes and bus frequencies, perhaps utilizing smaller busses operated on cleaner burning natural gas instead of diesel or gasoline.
Roads and drainage are a definite priority for Houston. I intend to work very hard to bring our roads up to the standard of the fourth largest city in America. With the likely collapse of the drainage fee looming on the horizon as the result of ongoing litigation, members of council are going to be busy figuring out new ways to deal with these critical issues.
The current ReBuild Houston program requires four funding sources.
The first of these is a .0118 per 1000 dollar dedication of funds from property taxes targeted specifically for road and drainage purposes. These funds come out of your property taxes and is an appropriate use of those funds.
The second is a recapture of certain funds from other taxing authorities, like TDOT, Metro, etc…, and is the return to Houston of taxes we are already paying. Again, this seems appropriate to me.
The third source is a developer fee. This fee applies to builders and developers who increase the impermeable service of land to build a residential or commercial building on a piece of property. This seems reasonable as those who create additional runoff should participate in the remediation of the runoff they create.
The fourth source is the user fee. This is the objectionable part of the program often referred to as the “Rain Tax”. The purpose for this fee appears to me to be a quick way to obtain startup capital to begin the process of transitioning from the CIP model to the ReBuild Houston model. This fee appears to me to be “priming the pump”. However there is no sunset on this fee and it amounts to, in my mind, an additional tax. This places the tax payer in the position of funding ¾ of the entire project. I believe this fee, if the whole thing is not rejected by a court, should be eliminated.
Without the user fee, it will take much longer to complete the entire process of repairing or replacing our entire infrastructure but I believe it is a sustainable program which in the course of time will produce beneficial results. Our property and sales taxes are correctly used for the purpose of providing city services and infrastructure. Had our past city leaders taken this issue seriously and dedicated a small percentage of these tax funds to infrastructure and drainage repair and replacement, instead of raiding these funds for other programs and expenses, we would not have this issue to discuss today.
Unfortunately, our current mayor has played fast and loose with the funds generated by ReBuild Houston and has produced a convoluted and complicated process to determine which projects need attention first. Monies from existing CIP projects appear to have been pulled and replaced with ReBuild Houston funds which creates, in the minds of many, a sense of impropriety in use of these “dedicated funds.” Instead of adding to the list of projects to reduce drainage or improve our streets the Rebuild Houston funds seem to have been used to replace existing project funding, freeing those dedicated project funds to be placed back into the general funds account and used for other purposes.
Crime is a concern in every community in Houston. Much of our crime problems are connected to the lack of adequate numbers of police personnel. Our Fire Department likewise has a need for better equipment and resources.
Recognizing we are not likely to be able to substantially increase the number of officers in the near term, I plan to work with HPD to explore advanced and technological options for responding to crime. I believe technologies can be used to enhance and multiply the presence of the officers we do have.
Our Fire Department is in dire need of new and technologically advance apparatus and equipment. We need to make sure our Firefighters have the best and most advanced tools and equipment to combat fires and to respond to medical emergencies.
Delivery of City Services
I am looking forward to the opportunity to help my neighbors get their monies worth from the services provided by the city.
I recognize that, as your elected representative, you are my employer. I am your employee. I pledge to make myself available, to the best of my ability, to every resident of Houston.
Proposition 1 (Houston Equal Rights Ordinance)
I am opposed to this proposition because I see many fundamental flaws with its wording, logic, and enforcement provisions.
There are many examples throughout the ordinance which places undue burdens on local businesses, employers, and customers.
This ordinance, in my opinion, unnecessarily expands the scope, size, and cost of government. It places our local business owners in an untenable position, exposed to either civil or criminal penalties, and requires customers to forfeit the expectation of privacy in certain areas of public accommodation.
I believe this ordinance to be poorly reasoned, written, and executed and I am therefore opposed to its passage.