Publicly meeting for the first time since Houston’s controller issued a warning about the administration’s proposed tax rate, a rift between the two top elected officials resulted in the city decreasing its tax rate.
Early in the week, City Controller Chris Brown sent a memo to the mayor and city council alerting them that the administration’s proposed 2018 tax rate wasn’t in compliance with the voter-imposed tax cap. Saying that it was his job to make sure the process was transparent, because the mayor was trying to bypass the cap with as little attention as possible, Brown and Turner went back and forth over whether or not the mayor was saying one thing publicly while doing the opposite in private. Though Turner wouldn’t give a definitive answer on whether he sought to exercise an emergency exception to the cap and collect revenue beyond its limitations until he was repeatedly pressured. Brown said that Turner’s rhetoric led the public to believe otherwise. Indeed, it did.
During a joint press conference with Gov. Greg Abbott and Turner weeks ago regarding Harvey Relief, Turner, flanked by former and current colleagues publicly said that the $50 million hand-delivered by the governor meant that he would drop his tax increase proposal and stay within the cap, thus not exercising the emergency provision.
But, when asked by the Controller who has been asking the administration for two weeks whether it was their intent to exercise the provision, Turner refused to answer. He only answered affirmatively after some additional pressure from Council Member Dave Martin.
More important than the administration’s attempt to sidestep taxpayers and increase tax revenue while claiming no tax increase was Council Member Mike Knox’s amendment to reduce the proposed rate to a rate that would bring the city in compliance with the cap, .584210 per $100. Knox truly carried the day for taxpayers by ensuring that the city stayed within the cap and maintained the promise that the administration made to taxpayers.
The only two to vote against a property tax cut for Houston taxpayers was Mayor Turner and Council Member Ellen Cohen.
Though the rate difference was about .002, the amendment saves taxpayers $7.8 million by forcing the city to continue to operate under the voter-imposed provisions. If not for the Knox amendment, the city would have had to either pass Turner’s proposed rate or go into state default for failing to adopt a tax rate by the legal deadline because the administration brought the rate to council at the last possible regular meeting.
Most of council only found out about the rate because of the Controller’s alert, Knox even said, “I was very surprised to see the item on the agenda with no background information at all until Monday at 8:17pm,” with the vote being on Wednesday.
Here’s a brief summation of Turner backtracking on his promise to stay within the voter-imposed property tax cap: