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The revenue cap and the police

It’s something. Not what I want, but something.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner used his third State of the City speech to call — again — for the city to be able to collect more revenue than allowed by the property tax cap voters imposed 14 years ago, this time floating the idea of collecting extra dollars specifically for public safety.

Turner had taken a similar line during the 2015 campaign, then moved to advocating for a full repeal of the cap during much of his first two years in office. He backed away from placing such a request on last November’s ballot, however, fearing it would imperil the $1 billion bond referendum that was needed to secure the landmark pension reform package he shepherded through the Legislature last year.

The mayor on Tuesday instead highlighted the need to increase staffing in the Houston Police Department, and he suggested the idea of following former Mayor Bill White’s playbook from 2006, when White got voters’ permission to let the city collect $90 million more than the cap otherwise would have allowed for spending on public safety.

It took Houston eight years to exhaust that breathing room and run into the cap for the first time. Amid rising property values, the City Council has been forced to cut the property tax rate every fall since to avoid collecting more revenue than the cap allows. Council cut the tax rate to 58.42 cents per $100 of assessed value last September, the lowest rate since 1988.

The revenue cap limits the annual growth in city property tax revenue to 4.5 percent or the combined rates of inflation and population growth, whichever is lower.

Turner did not commit to White’s approach, to a dollar amount, or to placing an item before voters this November, saying he intends to force a conversation on the need to invest in more officers and in ancillary areas such as cybersecurity protections, adding “the current model is not sustainable.”

“I’m just simply sounding the alarm. We cannot continue to cut and cut and cut and add 500 to 600 more police to our force,” Turner said after his speech to a luncheon hosted by the Greater Houston Partnership. “I did not want to throw out a number because people then tag onto that number and we don’t have a robust conversation on the need and then how we should meet that need.”

Tweets from his official Twitter account, however, were more definitive about taking the matter to voters: “I will move to put an item on the ballot on (sic) this November to make sure Houston continues to be resilient and strong when it comes to protecting innocent people.” said one. Another said, “Our city sorely needs revenue to increase staffing & resources for first responders at Police & Fire Dpartments. But we’re constrained by the #revenuecap. That’s why it’s time to ask voters to lift the cap solely for strengthening public safety & city services.”


What makes Turner’s Tuesday comments different, said Rice University political scientist Mark Jones, is that he is focusing solely on public safety.

“There does not exist a strong public appetite for lifting the revenue cap unconditionally,” Jones said. “The only way to really sell it is via public safety. That’s probably the only winning method.”

Turner seemed to acknowledged as much Tuesday, saying in part, “It’s quite clear, it seems to me, people want to maintain the revenue cap. OK, fine. What I’m simply saying is, we need to find a way to generate some additional dollars on top of that revenue cap.”

It’s depressing to me that people have come to believe the BS about this stupid policy, which was imposed on Houston and basically noplace else by the usual gang of governmental nihilists, but propaganda does work. I’d love to see an all-out assault on the revenue cap, marshaling all the arguments about how it undercuts the city’s ability to prosper from economic growth and how it forces budget priorities on us whether we want them or not, but I recognize that this would be a tough fight against a wealthy and motivated opponent, which we could lose. It’s a fight we can engage another day, perhaps when the climate has changed enough. In the meantime, we all know that budgets can be flexible, and money is often fungible. Even earmarking extra revenue in this fashion makes the budget more manageable. If it’s the best we can do, then let’s do it.

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  1. Manny Barrera says:

    Put it in the ballot, Houston needs more police and fire personal. Make it a Democrat supporting public safety versus Republican hating cops, they constantly attack the FBI and while they talk the talk about local police when it comes to supporting them where it counts, like pay and benefits they don’t walk the walk.

  2. Jules says:

    Unfortunately the city can not be trusted to use the money for the intended purpose. See the rain tax lockbox and Costello as flood czar.

    As long as the city has enough money for tax abatements for the rich, the revenue cap needs to stay in place. Our taxes should be going to police and firefighters, not developers.

    The Controller recently did an audit of the tax breaks, and it was incredibly lame. For instance, he did not even mention that for all the millions in tax breaks for the downtown apartments that zero units of affordable housing were produced even though the underlying ordinance requires affordable housing.

  3. C.I. says:

    Turner and cronies (Acevado) are corrupt on all levels. I wouldn’t vote for anything this mayor is for, it has nothing with race and everything to do with who he is as a person.

  4. Manny Barrera says:

    The Republicans like to only see evil when a Democrat is in power, to see how the mind of a Trump supporter thinks, there is the link below (Their Level) that even they can understand.

  5. Jason Hochman says:

    Mayor Turner’s limitations are increasingly on display. He is determined to break through the pillow soft revenue cap, one way or another. His solution to everything is: give us more money. Of course, there’s always money for tax abatement for HEB, or Kroger, or WalMart, or some other giant corporation. Of course, nobody knows where the Rebuild Houston money went, or is going, but the flooding comes every year.

    The post with the Trump supporter cartoon is funny, but the Democrats are way worse. When HUD determined that Mayor Turner was a segregationist, nobody was upset. But Trump is a “racist” for far less. Apparently, Turner struck a deal with HUD, by saying he would try to be more sympathetic to housing for minorities. He should be impeached for violating the city’s fair housing law.

    If this is put to the voters hopefully they will vote no. When I called the police to report someone breaking into a car in my neighborhood, the first question they asked me was: “are they Black or Hispanic?” which shows the mindset of the department. Perhaps, with all of the police agencies inside the loop, there can be some sort of inter agency agreements, allowing the constables,sheriffs, DPS, River Oaks Patrol, UH Police, HISD Police, Bellaire Police, Southside Place Police, West University Place Police, METRO PD, Rice PD, HCCC Police, Med Center Security, UT Police, and the other myriad police agencies can coordinate their efforts to use existing resources to provide adequate police protection for the good people of Harris County.

  6. Manny Barrera says:

    Jason I have serious doubt about the question are the Hispanic or Black. I often call the police when I see something, that has never been asked, they do ask for a description of the individual(s).

    Trump is a “racist” for far less, stick to speaking to the Fox news watchers they tend to believe that. Can you prove that Turner is a segregationist? Your comment is based on an article,

    The Central Park incident;

    Trump refusal to rent to Blacks,

    Hochman you support a racist, a bigot, a liar, a person who been accused of raping a minor, of abusing women, a sorry excuse for a human being, those I guess are the values you support.

    As Turner stated, he had only been in office and he is now responsible for the segregation? In fact your conclusion that Turner is not sympathetic to housing for minorities is flat out wrong. What Turner did say is:

    “When you no longer build affordable housing in these low-income communities, then you are participating in the closing and consolidation of these schools, which impacts communities. You don’t get that growth and that development with the people there, maintaining that history, that culture, that personality of those neighborhoods, and so you force people out,” he said. “Developers circle, come right back in, and they end up building homes and housing for other people … and I am not going to participate in gentrifying another minority neighborhood.”

    You are correct when you state that those of us that do live in Houston proper, should be able to call the Constable or Sheriff to report crime, we pay the same taxes as those that get the service in the unincorporated areas.

    Trump is a racist his history proves it as his words and actions;

    Trump: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”


  7. C.L. says:

    @Jason.. “When I called the police to report someone breaking into a car in my neighborhood, the first question they asked me was: “are they Black or Hispanic?”

    And what was your response ?

  8. Bill Daniels says:

    A few thoughts:

    First, since the po-po are racist and disproportionately target ‘people of color,’ why would y’all want MORE police? Why does Mayor Turner want to oppress his people even more?

    Second, if you are just itching to pay more tax and force everyone else to pay more tax, why not just move to a high tax state like California, where they already have all that?

    Finally, if you are worried about crime, just enact draconian gun laws in the City of Houston. That seems to work everywhere else it has been tried. Oh, and definitely have more gun free zones, because that stuff WORKS!

  9. Steve Houston says:

    Manny, why do you believe they need more manpower? HPD wastes tremendous amounts of manpower on low priority crimes then brags about it all over social media. HFD has incredible amounts of manpower that is wasted while they sleep during their shifts, all for that rare event where more people are needed. Both need to be restructured to make use of what they have before throwing more money at them.

    Jason, your account sounds unlikely at best.

    Bill, the majority of HPD officers are minorities, maybe they are looking at it as a workfare project but as Kuff has pointed out in the past, no one at the city is willing to detail where all that extra manpower is going to be used. Lacking that justification, why would anyone with a shred of common sense support the expansion? It is more likely just a work around method to defeat the revenue cap, the bulk of the additional money would then be used elsewhere in the same kind of paper shuffle Houston engaged in with Metro dollars in the 1990’s. The last time an exception to the cap was used “for public safety” under Bill White, the city actually lost hundreds of cops yet found plenty of ways to continue spending more than came in.

  10. Jason Hochman says:

    Manny, the story is true, and, in fact, I was shocked, and asked the dispatch person, “are those the only types of people who break into cars?” This was several years ago, Labor Day weekend, maybe 7 years ago.

    You ask, can I prove that Turner is a segregationist, yet you go on to say that Trump is accused of abusing women, accused of statutory rape, can you prove these accusations?

    From a different article: “In order for housing projects that use Low-Income Housing Tax Credits to proceed, City Council must vote to issue a Resolution of No Objection — yet Mayor Turner refused to even put it to a vote. He chalked his actions up to “costs and other concerns” — yet the feds contend that Turner’s reasoning was unsupported by facts and that instead, the city gave into the will of the people, without any checks and balances in place to protect against a racially motivated will.”

    Mayor Turner ran before, and he had a lawsuit against KTRK, and Wayne Dolcefino, I don’t know if you recall that, or heard about that. Removing statues doesn’t improve the quality of life for minorities, non-discrimination in housing does improve lives.