The news came this past week that the Houston City Council set the 2023-2024 city budget proposal to spend $6.2 billion. The upcoming budget represents an increase of several hundred million dollars over the 2022-2023 budget.
I could go on about several things here, but what caught my attention was that Charles Blain at Urban Reform posted on Twitter a video of City of Houston mayor Sylvester Turner going bonkers over the fact that the City of Houston revenue cap, passed over 15 years ago, is going to “cost” the city $347 million dollars this year. To putting it another way, however, is that the revenue cap will be saving Houston taxpayers from having to pay $347 million! The mayor went on to get bent out of shape over the fact that the revenue cap has prevented the city from collecting $1.8 billion in taxes since 2015.
I was a part of the 2001 campaign that put the city charter amendment on the ballot, having volunteered some 120 hours of my time verifying signatures of Houston residents who signed our petition to check their validity. When the city secretary, the much lauded Anna Russell, failed to verify that we had the required 20,000 valid signatures after seven weeks of having them, a group of us pooled money together and filed a lawsuit against former mayor Lee Brown (in his official capacity as the mayor). I ponied up several thousand dollars of my own money to fund the legal battle. We wanted the charter amendment to be voted on immediately, but what ended up happening was that that the charter amendment wasn’t allowed onto the ballot until 2005.
For years afterwards, I despaired over the charter amendment, as it didn’t seem as though it was having any effect. Yet now, having heard Sylvester Turner publicly gripe about the revenue cap, I feel much happier that it is having some effect. One common trope that is trotted out about the revenue cap is that core city services are dying because the citizenry aren’t being forced to fork over the money! However, just for one comparison – the Houston Police Department doesn’t seem to be hurting. The website Police Scorecard, for example, shows that HPD’s staffing, at 5,300 or so officers, actually has a larger staffing ratio, at 22.9 police officers per 10,000 residents, than 71 percent of police departments around the United States. Police Scorecard also says that with an annual budget over $900 million, at $392 per resident, the Houston Police Department is better funded than 61 percent of police departments around the United States. Likewise, the firefighters at the Houston Fire Department, like most fire departments around the country, don’t spend most of their time fighting fires. Rather, they go to car accidents and respond to 911 phone calls.
One other comment about the core services funding argument: It needs to be stressed that HPD is NOT the only law enforcement department that patrols within the City of Houston boundaries. Harris County constables and sheriffs also have jurisdictional authority to perform law enforcement within the city’s boundaries.
I suspect that of the $347 million that the mayor is complaining about, Houstonians would perhaps have directly benefited from just $47 million in benefits, while the other $300 million would have somehow disappeared into the pockets of Turner, the Democratic Party, and all the rest of the patronage/pressure groups lurking down at City Hall.
So, the revenue cap is saving Houstonians from having to pay $347 million in taxes this year. Don’t ever tell me that Neal Meyer and the rest of the Let the People Vote campaign crew didn’t ever do something for you. Think of it as an annual Christmas gift that keeps on giving, and that we really did SAVE YOU MONEY!