The news came out this past week that the Harris County commissioners court voted to put a #1.2 billion bond proposal on the ballot for November 2022. Supposedly, $900 million would be targeted for roads (and flood control), $200 million for parks, and $100 million for safety bonds. It was unclear from the article whether the bond proposals would be bundled together into one bond vote, or whether each item proposal would be voted on separately; the Houston Chronicle article seemed to indicate a separate vote on each subject item.
I’ve attended a few evening events recently, listening in on some candidate commentary on what’s going on in local politics. In particular, Harris County Treasurer candidate Kyle Scott gave a good overall rundown of what’s going on financially with the county. Scott told an audience recently that Harris County reserves were at $313 million in 2018. They are now down to $4 million! Scott also said that the commissioners had recently let out a $2.3 million contract to a consultant to advise the county on how to securitize roughly $221 million in county hard assets, such as park land, buildings, and so forth.
Then there’s the issue of what the commissioners have done with the Harris County Toll Road Authority (HCTRA) money. The HCTRA has long been something of a political football. The toll roads have definitely contributed much to mobility, but voters were promised years ago that once the toll roads were paid, the tolls would come down and eventually go away. That – surprise surprise! – has never materialized. Indeed, Kyle Scott mentioned that some $600 million in toll road money has been moved to maintenance and operations. Then there’s the previously added move by the commissioners to spend $53 million of HCTRA money on hike and bike trails, a move cheered on by the Houston Chronicle. Burning through toll road money and then asking for $900 million in new bonding for roads strikes me as though the commissioners are acting as if they are afflicted with schizophrenia.
Although flooding is not a high priority in this new bond proposal, I asked Kyle Scott about the $2.5 billion flood bond, which was passed in 2018, one year after Hurricane Harvey struck Houston. This may stun blogHOUSTON readers, but I actually voted in favor of the flood bond issue. It was the first time I had voted in favor of any bond in probably 20 years. Scott said to me that only $544 million of the flood bond money had actually been spent. I would also add that, for better or for worse, the commissioners actually held quite a few public meetings on the flood bond, asking for public input on where projects should go, and a total of 181 projects were eventually identified.
One big complaint I have with this bond proposal is that the current Court hasn’t even listed one project to be worked on. Effectively, the court is
asking telling us to approve for them a blank check, and then telling Houstonians that we’ll worry about the details later.
Then there’s the City of Houston bond election pile-on
Not to be outdone by the Harris County commissioners, the Houston City Council voted to approve a $478 million bond election measure of their own. Traditionally, the City of Houston usually does itemize bond proposals into groups, rather than forcing an up-or-down vote on an entire bond package. The proposal does have some specifics: $45+ million is earmarked for a new and enlarged animal shelter facility for BARC (the Bureau of Animal Regulation and Control), for example. However, a lot of stuff in the proposal, to me, is stuff that should be taken care of already via taxes. Why resort to borrowing?
Overall though, I get the vibe – particularly after the Houston city council put their bond proposal on the ballot – that the Democrats are using these proposals as carrots (or bait) to get voters to turn out in what will be a hotly contested election. With crime becoming a hot button topic again, why not a proposal to build new prison facilities? Perhaps that’s because doing that might sink the bond proposals, and we certainly can’t have that! Can we?