At-Large Position 1
2017 Legislative Highlights
Panhandling (Impeding the Use of a Roadway)
Earlier this spring, I was proud of the Mayor and my fellow council members for supporting my amendment to change the City panhandling ordinance which prohibits panhandlers from entering the street or being on the medians. Panhandlers on streets or medians are a danger to themselves as well as motorists. While oftentimes the police have more pressing service calls than to remove panhandlers from medians, this change in ordinance is another tool given to the police to help them combat this important safety issue.
In the spring of 2017, City Council approved an ordinance prohibiting encampments on public property. Unfortunately, this ordinance was blocked from enforcement by the courts. Last week, U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt dissolved a court order prohibiting enforcement of this important ordinance. Judge Hoyt stated that ”allowing the encampments to continue in their current condition poses a greater detriment to the city and its residents more so than any harm that may result from the City’s enforcement of the ordinance.” I welcome the judge’s comments. Having individuals camp out is dangerous and a health hazard. City personnel have approached many of these homeless individuals to offer them shelter, safety, as well as medical assistance. I applaud the Mayor and his team for their continuing efforts to place these persons in short and long-term housing.
After years of discussions and lawsuits, the Mayor’s 30 year proposal to deal with the City’s pension systems was approved by the Texas Legislature and subsequently by the Houston voters in November. In summary, the pension systems agreed to minor cuts in benefits, more contributions to the system from City employees, an infusion of $1 billion in taxpayer backed bond money to the pension systems, and caps the amount of annual taxpayer money into the systems. With these changes, the unfunded liability of the pension systems was reduced from $8 billion to approximately $5 billion.
I am proud of my stand on preserving the 2004 voter approved property tax revenue cap. The Mayor and some on city council have advocated the need to get rid of the property tax limitations which restrains the annual increase in local property tax revenue by the total of inflation plus population growth or a maximum of 4.5% whichever is lower. I fully support the will of the voters. Furthermore, I am not convinced that each City department is being operated as efficiently as possible and thus the need for additional tax dollars. This fall the Mayor proposed busting the property tax revenue cap which I vocally opposed. In response to the Mayor, I offered an amendment to oppose the Mayor’s tax increase. My amendment passed by a council vote of 15-2 thereby defeating the Mayor’s tax hike.
I, along with a few of my council colleagues, travelled to Washington, D.C. in November to meet with elected leaders in the House and Senate as well as representatives from the Trump Administration. We pressed the case that Houston needs additional funds to recover from Hurricane Harvey and prevent such devastation from future storms. Unfortunately, some “Inside the Beltway” have the impression from news reports that since the storm debris in Houston is cleaned up, Houston is back to normal. I reminded them thousands of Houstonians are still recovering from Harvey and are currently displaced from their homes. Houstonians are resilient but need help at this time and possibly for years to come. We need the feds to assist us with additional reservoir capacity as well as repairing and strengthening the current reservoirs in west Houston which are under the authority of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In addition, we stated the need for a coastal spine or “Ike Dike” which engineers have proposed will limit the storm surge in the Gulf from future storms and possibly save thousands of homes and businesses from incurring billions of dollars in damage. Houston can’t do this alone but could partner with the feds and surrounding communities.
This past summer we approved the City’s annual balanced budget with minor spending cuts and asset sales. We have been informed that the City will once again be facing a deficit of over $100 million out of a $5 billion budget. Does Houston have fiscal challenges ahead? Absolutely. Despite these challenges I will continue my commitment to scrutinize your tax dollars and how they are spent. I will work with and support the Mayor’s agenda when I can, and will oppose him when I think it is in the best interest of Houstonians.