Despite the Republican Party of Texas platform explicitly calling for bond elections to be held on the November uniform election date, Harris County officials were granted their request to hold a special election for a flood bond in August.

Last week, Harris County Commissioners Court sent a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott requesting he approve a special August 25 election for a proposed bond, likely to be as high as $2.5 billion.

Though the RPT platform calls for uniform election dates, the lone Democrat on the Commissioners Court was the only member pushing for the election on the November ballot.

Today, Abbott granted the request for an August election. Had Abbott denied the request, Commissioners could have easily, without state approval, placed the bond on the November ballot which is only seven short weeks after the proposed date.

“As you know, I consider responding to matters concerning Hurricane Harvey to qualify as an emergency. To the extent your emergency special election relates to Hurricane Harvey, it is granted,” read Abbott’s letter.

Though Harvey is being used as an excuse to hold the bond election, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said himself that the bond won’t be solely for Harvey.

“It’s generally assumed we’re going to have to have a bond issue of some type, but it’s not just about Harvey, it’s much broader than Harvey. It’s about what are we going to do to make our community resilient in the long term,” said Emmett in court last week. “This is a response to Harvey but it’s much more than that.”

It is much more than that, and voters should be given ample time to evaluate such a massive proposal.

This election is now just a few short months away and the proposed projects to be included in the $2.5 billion bond have yet to be made public. At best, if the proposals were released this week, voters would have just three months to evaluate what projects will be included.

Make no mistake, a $2.5 billion bond will mean a tax increase for Harris County homeowners.

The number currently being thrown around is that the bond will cost taxpayers $5 the first year and roughly $5 per month for 15 years after that. A $60 annual increase may not seem like a lot to elected officials, but to families in Harris County it can be. Especially when considering that Harris County taxpayers have seen their property taxes increase by 36 percent in a three-year period.

Interestingly, the letter the county sent to the governor’s office claims that the special election is necessary so the county to have access to matching federal funds sooner.

At odds with that, Abbott’s says, “billions of federal dollars are either currently available to Harris County or will be available to the county before it has the ability to issue the bonds,” he continued, “Congress purposefully provided much of those matching dollars through Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds so that local governments would not need to match the federal grants.”

So, despite saying the reasoning behind asking for a special election is flawed, Abbott approved it nonetheless.

Abbott’s approval of an election to be held one week before Labor Day Weekend and before Houston ISD starts the school year is a smack in the face to the party platform. If it were truly an emergency, why did the commissioners wait a year to call for the election? Would waiting seven additional weeks to place it on the November ballot make a difference?

No, it’s clear why August was chosen for a special election date rather than waiting until November.

During commissioners court when the bond was being discussed Emmett said, “The general election, most people say that’s when you get your bigger turnout. That’s true, but that’s also when you have a very mixed campaign. Those of us who are running, for example, have to talk about our campaign and a bond at the same time. That a bit problematic.”

He continued, “This is a bit of a political statement, but I’ll make it. If it’s in November then I don’t campaign for reelection, I campaign for a bond.”

Ultimately, Abbott’s decision to put a matter that affects millions in the hands of a select few was due to political pressure. An issue as important as regional flood control, and an amount as high as $2.5 billion should be given maximum time for voters to evaluate the proposals and should be brought to them when turnout would be the highest.

Charles Blain

Charles Blain is the president of Urban Reform and Urban Reform Institute. A native of New Jersey, he is based in Houston and writes on municipal finance and other urban issues.


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