As Houston begins to chart a new course this week under Mayor Sylvester Turner’s administration, there are a few big-ticket policy items that are sure to come up around the dais that will shape the city and test his managerial skills.
Here’s what Houstonians should be watching for:
Budget and Deficit
One of his first major tests will be how he constructs his FY17 budget and addresses the looming $126 million deficit at the same time. Turner has touted his experience in the legislature as preparation for this, but Houston is a unique environment and we’ll see in the coming months how he begins to manage the city’s finances.
Mayor Turner has been a vocal supporter for increasing the minimum wage and possibly enacting a ‘living wage.’ Citing Houston’s failed attempt at increasing local minimum wage in 1997, Turner says that under the current climate, he believes Houstonians would be more amicable to such a ballot measure this time around. State law prohibits cities and counties from setting a wage that would require private sector employers to increase the wage of their lowest-paid employees, but Turner feels that cities should be given that ability. Currently though, he does have the power to push for minimum wage increases for public employees, and in some cases, employees of private companies that contract with the city or receive government incentives.
Property Tax Cap
Turner has voiced his displeasure with the voter-imposed property tax cap, even going so far as to use the Texas House republicans’ inaction on a tax cap as justification to repeal Houston’s. But the lack of a state tax cap is anything but a positive reflection on House republicans —rather, it illustrates how liberal leadership continues to fail Texans. Houston’s tax cap is the last protective barrier for city taxpayers—and voters should prepare to fight hard to keep it.
Opt-out Exemption for Houston Open Carry
Initially mentioned at a legislative recap event hosted by the Tribune, then-Rep. Turner said, if elected Mayor, he would advocate the legislature to provide an open carry opt-out exemption for the City of Houston.
According to Texans for Local Control, Turner refused to sign their pledge. However, he has since said he does in fact support local control as long as there is support within the city. Only time will tell if he advocates as strongly for that as he does for issues he’s more passionate about.
Houston is a prime destination for undocumented immigrants because of proximity to the border and lax enforcement of immigration laws. Turner supports driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants and the Texas DREAM Act. Turner also wants to hire an additional 6,000 police officers but believes that, “our police officers should not be asking immigration status when investigating – the immigrant community needs to know that police are not interested in their immigration status…”
Bonus: ReBuild Houston and Term Limits
Both are currently being decided in court and not at city hall, but the decisions will certainly impact the Turner administration.
ReBuild Houston hangs in the balance as the Texas Supreme Court has deemed the ballot language which ushered in the program was misleading. The city is appealing the case but if struck down, Houston may have to repay the millions collected by the program. If the program stays in place, Turner says he will work to strengthen it, if struck down he said he would find a replacement.
The voter-approved change of term limits from three two-year terms to two four-year terms is also being contested in court over its ballot language. Though the lawsuit was recently filed it has the potential to reverse the change.
While Houstonians made their mayoral choice, it was only by 4,000 votes out of the roughly 212,000 cast. This near-even split means Mayor Turner doesn’t have a mandate for Houston and everyone’s voice needs to be represented in policy discussions.
Now, more than ever, as Houston stares down the barrel of an uncertain financial future, taxpayers, activists, and groups need to stay involved. Turning out the vote is great, but to have real skin in the game is to be involved in the policy that comes out of city hall and that impacts every Houstonian. The municipal election season may be over, but Houstonians’ duty as citizens is far from complete.