Vote 2017

Schneider Report: On Houston’s Ballot, Four Capital Improvement Bonds To Raise $500M

Political reporter Andrew Schneider provides a look into the 2017 election in Houston; On this installment, he explains that the quartet of bonds would pay for essential city services, including rescue services for future hurricanes.

Outside of Houston City Hall
Houston City Hall

Houston’s pension bond is the single biggest expense Mayor Sylvester Turner is asking voters to approve. But it’s not the only one. There are also four other bond measures on the ballot.

The other bonds, known as “general obligation bonds,” would let the city borrow close to half a billion dollars. The money would pay for a range of basic city services, many of which are chronically short of funds:

  • Proposition B ($159,000,000) would pay for public safety improvements, including new rescue equipment and training for the police and fire departments for dealing with future hurricanes.
  • Proposition C ($104,000,000) would pay to improve parks, as well as to conserve green spaces and improve water quality along the city’s bayous.
  • Proposition D ($109,000,000) would pay to improve the city’s public health and sanitation systems.
  • Proposition E ($123,000,000) would pay to improve the city’s public library system.

“I think people are going to find all of the services that are in these bonds attractive, right?” said Steven Craig, who teaches public sector economics at the University of Houston. “But at some point, the city will have to worry about its overall debt level, and that will affect our tax rate.” Craig  said the city’s revenue cap applies to current expenses – the money the city can spend this year – but not to how much money it can spend to service its debt.

Alan Bernstein, a spokesman for Mayor Turner’s office, disputed that. “The tax rate does not have to go up to increase city revenue as long as property values – and sales tax revenues – continue to increase,” he said. “With the revenue cap in place, however, annual city property tax revenue cannot increase unless inflation and population growth exceed 4.5 percent annually.” Borrowing money, Bernstein said, is not the same as increasing revenue, any more than a homeowner taking out a mortgage is increasing his income.

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Andrew Schneider

Politics and Government Reporter

Andrew heads Houston Public Media’s coverage of national, state, and local elections. He also reports on major policy issues before the Texas Legislature and county and city governments across Greater Houston. Before taking up his current post, Andrew spent five years as Houston Public Media’s business reporter, covering the oil...

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