On Friday, Houston Mayor Annise Parker and the City of Houston got some very bad news from the Texas Supreme Court. In an unambiguous, 14-page, 8-0 decision, Justice John Devine (writing for the Court) ruled that by omitting any reference to how the initiative would be funded, the language chosen by the City for the rain tax referendum was deceptive and misleading. The case has been remanded to the lower court, “for further proceedings consistent with [the] opinion.”
It’s quite a smackdown for too-clever politicians like rain-tax proponents Annise Parker and rain-tax architect Stephen Costello, who misled voters from the start on the cost of the program (an issue the Court saw no need to address, given the dishonesty of the ballot language itself). The full opinion may be downloaded here.
Although the Supreme Court has now left it to the lower court to work through the details, the impact of the unambiguous Supreme Court ruling seems clear: The referendum by which the City has collected millions of dollars of “rain tax” funds is now invalid, the ongoing collection mechanism the City uses to rake in “rain tax” funds will shortly be declared invalid by the lower court, and the City — which is broke — may well be on the hook to refund the millions of dollars collected thus far under the program.
Mayor Parker appears to be in denial. She issued a press statement downplaying the ruling on Friday, a stance that she also has taken in weekend media coverage of the issue. In a Sunday afternoon tweet, the lame-duck mayor also attempted to deflect from her smackdown by the Supreme Court:
Rebuild Houston added $600 mil of completed, in construction & planned street/drainage work. Ask mayoral candidates how they'd replace.-A
— Annise Parker (@AnniseParker) June 14, 2015
Indeed, all of the mayoral candidates should be asked their opinion on the 8-0 Supreme Court smackdown of the deceptive and misleading ballot language used by the Parker Administration to win narrow approval of a controversial initiative on taxing-and-spending. Will they pledge not to be as deceptive and misleading in their handling of city affairs, should voters entrust them with the job?
Beyond that, we’d like to hear much more from Mayor Parker along with Councilmember and mayoral candidate Stephen Costello (who, in addition to deceiving the public while putting the rain tax together, currently chairs Council’s Budget and Fiscal Affairs Committee) about the budget impact of this decision, should millions of dollars (600 million of them, as Mayor Parker points out) need to be refunded. Those are questions for the City’s current leaders (such as they are), especially with a big budget vote looming.