January 11, 2006
Prop 2 backers win one in court
A district court judge has issued a summary judgment in favor of last year's City Proposition 2, which was a revenue cap measure that was passed by the voters but not implemented because a different proposition got more votes.
The city had argued that a limited cap backed by the mayor, called Proposition 1, took precedence because it received more votes. Backers of Proposition 2, put on the ballot by resident petition, said the city had to put both caps into effect, and sought a court order.
In a summary judgment issued late Monday, state District Judge Tad Halbach agreed with the Proposition 2 plaintiffs.
The city will appeal the ruling, which the mayor and controller say has no immediate practical effect on city revenues since this year's budget was written to allow for both revenue caps.
"We will work through this and straighten it out," White said. "I don't think it will be a problem in the next fiscal year. So long as Prop 2 is out there, and if we don't get this cleaned up in the courts or in the charter, it could threaten our bond rating."
Under Proposition 1, the city caps annual increases in property tax revenue and water and sewer rates to the combined rates of population growth and inflation. Proposition 2 would limit annual revenue increases from all sources — including aviation and convention money — to the combined rates of population growth and inflation.
White maintains that implementing Proposition 2 could lead to restrictions in the city's ability to invest in police and public safety, meet the needs of the water and sewer system, and expand airport service.
I believe Prop 2 is bad public policy, so I don't care at all for this ruling. I hope the city can win on appeal, but I'm not terribly optimistic about it right now.
Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 11, 2006 to Local politics
Typical Republican judge: ruling first, hearing second, opinion justifying the ruling, last. Sam Alito would be proud. When, oh, when will Texas stop having partisan judicial elections?
I am curious, though. I thought there was explicit language in Prop. 1 that it would take precedence if it passed with more votes than Prop. 2. If so, how did the judge justify ignoring that language?
As for the public policy aspect, Prop. 2 suffers from the same problem as Colorado's TABOR (TAxpayer Bill Of Rights), which has a similar restriction: if revenues drop (say, because of a recession), then the new, lower revenue values become "locked in" for the subsequent recovery. The cycle repeats with each subsequent recession, until the city can no longer take in enough revenue to survive. If you're going to do something like this, you need at least to allow ten-year averaging or some other means to smooth out short-term revenue fluctuations.
Prop. 1 is limited to revenue sources that are less affected by recessions, so it doesn't suffer from the same problem, at least not as severely.
The language in prop 1 which attempted to preclude prop 2 is not legally binding. Each proposition must stand or fall on its own merits, under the terms of its own language. Imagine the hilarity that could ensue if this were not the case. I could defeat any proposition by writing one that says "resolved, that warm hugs are nice, and, by the way, if this proposition receives more votes than , only this resolution shall go into effect."
Now, if props 1 and 2 were truly, legitimately, in conflict, there would be no need for the hilarious high school debate preclusion language in prop 1. The one with more votes would take effect automatically.
Frankly, i take a dim view of government by proposition. Anyone ought to be able to a quick glance at Kalifornia, and conclude that it doesn't exactly produce god's gift to good government. Government by proposition is a classic case of a disconnect between authority and responsibility, a situation that always ends in tears.
But this judge ruled correctly, and ruled in the inevitable manner.
Bill White says they conflict. He graduated as Editor of UT's Law Review and 1st in his class. Maybe "high school debate" language is a bit, I don't know, say, inappropriate.
As Prop. 2 backers will tell you, the Mayor pushed Prop. 1 as an alternative to their wacko plan (Ok, they won't tell you it's wacko). The better question is why are conservative groups taking Bill White to court, who I believe has run one of the most fiscal responsible governments I've seen, while watching George W. Bush increase the size, scope, and snooping of the Federal Government?
This state district court judge says, in the eloquence of his summary judgment, that White's contention that prop 1 and prop 2 conflict is not even worth considering. Furthermore, White claims, and even his critics concede, that the city government is complying with both prop 1 and prop 2 at the moment. This is indeed a novel definition of "conflict."