Fair For Houston approved for the ballot

And the questions about what it can accomplish if it passes have begun.

Houston voters will decide whether the city should be part of a regional government board that does not give it proportional voting power, after City Council placed the question on the November ballot.

The referendum, now one of two before voters this fall, targets the Houston-Galveston Area Council, a 37-member body that distributes federal and state funding. Houston has just two votes on the council, despite making up over 30 percent of its population base.

The charter amendment, if passed, would require the city to pull out of groups that do not apportion votes according to population. Mayor Sylvester Turner, though, suggested Monday that pulling out of H-GAC would require other steps.

“Let’s say if the item’s on the ballot and it passes, you can’t just step away from H-GAC,” Turner said. “It does require the governor’s support and a majority of the board in order to do that, so there’s some other things that have to take place, but it does express the sentiment, or a vote for it expresses the sentiment of how they feel about the governance.”

Alexandra Smither, communications director of Fair For Houston, the group that collected signatures for the proposal, said afterward the governor’s support is not necessary to withdraw. Smither said the amendment, if passed, would trigger 60 days of negotiation to meet the proportionality requirement.

“The most likely outcome of the charter amendment is robust and fruitful negotiations, resulting in representation that is proportional to population size for Houston residents and other H-GAC members,” the group said in a news release.

It cited H-GAC’s bylaws, which say membership is voluntary.

“A member of the Houston-Galveston Area Council may withdraw from membership by action of its governing body,” it reads.

See here and here for the previous entries. The question is not whether Houston can withdraw from H-GAC – I think it’s clear that it can. The question is what happens with federal funds and grants and whatnot that Houston would be eligible for if Houston is not a member of an entity like H-GAC. Can it be its own metropolitan planning organization? What bureaucratic and/or legislative hoops would it have to jump through? After all this time, I still don’t feel like I know the answer to that. If Houston can just be its own MPO, then full steam ahead. If not, or if this would require approval from the Lege or Greg Abbott or Congress, then I just don’t see how we get there. And if we can’t get there, we don’t really have any leverage. I plan to ask these questions when I interview someone with Fair For Houston. I will not be at all upset if a professional reporter tries to answer them on their own before I get to it.

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