“I think in the long run any anti-tax opposition will make it a close race,” said state Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston, predicting that Hispanics could swing the vote.
Gallegos said he was worried about HISD’s timeline. The Houston Chronicle reported this month that HISD had not started construction as of late March on 40 percent of the projects stemming from the 2007 bond, but all were expected to be finished by 2014.
Gallegos said he could not support the plan as is, in part because he didn’t think it focused on schools that could see their enrollments boom as a result of President Barack Obama’s loosening of deportation rules.
Paul Bettencourt, a Harris County Republican Party Advisory Board member, said HISD should scale back its proposal. A $1.9 billion bond issue would be the largest for a Texas school district, according to The Bond Buyer newspaper.
The economy is fragile, Bettencourt said, and businesses will be hit harder by a tax hike because they don’t qualify for HISD’s optional homestead exemption, which reduces the taxable value of homes by 20 percent.
“This is a Titanic bond, and you hope it doesn’t hit an iceberg,” said Bettencourt, the former Harris County tax assessor-collector. “The problem from the economic conservative viewpoint is HISD has declining enrollment and that’s going to be an issue.”
Latinos were big supporters of the 2007 referendum, while African-American voters largely opposed it, on the grounds that they didn’t think they got much out of it and they didn’t think HISD did a good job communicating about it. This proposal was introduced a lot earlier, and so far no one is a firm No, so HISD starts out in a better place. As for Bettencourt, it’s nice to see that he has some official role to play in this other than Generic Cranky Republican Who Answers Reporters’ Phone Calls, but let’s be honest here: He’s not interested in supporting an HISD bond package, full stop. The tax rate increase, which wouldn’t kick in until 2014, is a convenient excuse for saying what he’d say anyway. The good news is that people like him are a minority of the electorate for HISD. If they can satisfy the concerns of their core audience, the bonds will pass regardless of what the Paul Bettencourts think.