Houston voters passed the city’s proposed charter amendments Proposition A and Proposition B, also known as the drainage fee and pay parity, respectively.

The drainage fee, which voters approved overwhelmingly, was back on the ballot after the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the last election on the tax was misleading. Early results showed the measure passing 74 to 25 percent. Regardless of tonight’s outcome, the drainage fee was here to stay after Mayor Sylvester Turner claimed that the election had no bearing on their ability to levy the fee.

The firefighter pay parity issue has been nothing short of contentious in recent months as the mayor has made attempts to thwart their efforts. With early results in, the measure appears to have passed 57 to 42 percent.

Shortly after results came in Turner issued a statement on Prop B saying:

“This apparent vote result presents city government with a new set of huge obstacles. The costs will be steep, as I have warned for months.

Under our city charter we don’t have a way to raise taxes to pay for this. The only way out is cuts in spending, and by far our biggest spending is on payroll.

So the apparent passage of Prop B puts us on course for layoffs. Some firefighters who had hoped to benefit from Prop B will lose their jobs instead — while older firefighters get a 29 percent pay hike.

Regrettably, the Fire Department budget alone will not be able to absorb these additional costs. Other departments such as police, solid waste, parks, and libraries will be adversely affected.

I hope and trust the residents of Houston will bear with us as we work to balance the city’s budget with an additional $100 million a year added to our expenses.

Another obstacle is how to interpret and carry out the language of the proposition, which is vague and ambiguous. Under our ordinances, the proposition on the ballot had to mirror what was on the petition that made the election necessary.

Mistakes were made in the petition language, which is why the city legal department will seek advice on how to go forward.”

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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