Local advocates have launched a petition drive aimed at increasing the city’s voice on the Houston-Galveston Area Council, a 13-county regional planning council that has been criticized by Houston leaders for what they consider unfair federal fund allocation.
Consisting of more than 100 local governments, including cities, counties and school districts, the council frequently serves as the decision maker for distributing federal funding for flood protection, workforce development and large-scale infrastructure works to member jurisdictions.
With more than 2.3 million residents, Houston represents more than 30% of the population within H-GAC’s jurisdiction, but only two city officials serve on its 37-member board.
Since mid-January, volunteers of the newly formed Houston-Galveston Area PAC have been collecting signatures from Houston voters under an initiative called “Fair for Houston,” with the aim of putting a city charter amendment on the ballot in November.
The proposed charter amendment would have Houston withdraw from any regional planning group without a proportional voting structure based on population size. The goal , organizer Michael Moritz said, is to compel H-GAC to revise its voting system.
“This organization is continuing to influence Houston in a way that has a strong human cost,” Moritz said. “Flood infrastructure not being built in Houston is going to influence how our city experiences the next major hurricane. And transportation projects are going to influence the risk of someone being injured or killed in a car crash or the rates of childhood asthma in schools near freeways.”
“Houston is the largest city in the metro area,” he said. “We have a significant amount of leverage here. The H-GAC would be in an existential crisis should they not be willing to hear Houston out and adapt the voting structure.”
Waller County Judge Trey Duhon, chairman of the H-GAC board of directors, said a proportional voting structure would give Houston and Harris County too much power and go against the spirit of regional representation.
“H-GAC is a regional planning organization and must always consider the big picture when it comes to our Gulf Coast region and the impact we can have on every county in H-GAC, large or small,” Duhon said. “What is being proposed would essentially kill the essence of a regional planning council of governments. It would allow two jurisdictions to essentially control and dominate regional decisions amongst the 13 counties. That undermines the entire purpose of the council of government.”
Moritz said that while the group’s ultimate goal is to have H-GAC change its voting structure, the city could decide to withdraw from H-GAC but still continue to receive funding under federal regulations on metropolitan planning organizations until a new regional planning group is created.
“There’s no risk that federal funding dries up,” he said. “All that we’re doing here is forcing H-GAC ‘s hand in a way. And Houston could decide to work with regional governments to constitute a new MPO in what would be sort of the last possible scenario if they continue to be obstinate toward Houston’s request.”
Danny Perez, a spokesperson for the Houston District of the Texas Department of Transportation, said the department “is committed to working with our MPO partners and will continue to do so whether as currently defined or restructured.”
See here for when I noted the existence of Fair For Houston. The story notes some previous examples of HGAC screwing us out of a fair share of funds, a situation that the likes of Trey Duhon no doubt thinks is just fine. It’s called “democracy”, Trey. Look it up sometime.
After I first posted about FFH, I started wondering about what would happen to the federal grant and appropriation process if Houston and Harris County were no longer in HGAC. My main fear was that some alternate organization would have to be created by the Legislature for the new Houston/Harris organization to participate in that process. That doesn’t appear to be the case, which is greatly reassuring, but I’d still like to see a super wonky explanation of what exactly would happen if the “take our ball and go home” threat got carried out, just so we’d all know what hoops or pitfalls there might be along the way. And if HGAC gets on board with the idea of, you know, not screwing Houston and Harris County, that would be great. Not blowing it up is usually the easier path. We just need to make sure the path we’re on is going somewhere good. If you go to the Fair For Houston website, you can see they have a number of events coming up to help collect the needed signatures. Go help them out if you can.