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The city’s bond package

And here’s Mayor Parker’s bond proposal for November.

Mayor Annise Parker is unveiling a $410 million package of proposed bond measures for the November ballot that will not require a tax increase.

She proposes five bond measures. The purposes and amounts:

  1. Public safety: $144 million
  2. Health, sanitation and general government: $63 million
  3. Affordable housing: $15 million
  4. Library: $28 million
  5. Parks: $160 million

“I realize many Houstonians are still recovering from the economic downturn,” Parker said in a press release. “That is why it was important to me to present a plan that does not require a tax increase. It is also the smallest bond proposal in more than 30 years. It is a fiscally responsible approach that will create jobs and improve public safety, infrastructure and quality of life.”

Council cannot vote on the measures today. Parker will bring the measures back on a future agenda for a formal vote by council to put them on the ballot.

You can see full details in the Mayor’s press release and the Chron story, which notes that each of these five items will be its own ballot proposition. Parks funding includes the Bayou Greenway project, which merits a couple of paragraphs in the release. Not all of the funds from this package has been designated to specific projects – some $116 million worth will be decided by Council, which ought to be interesting. Anyone want to guess how big District A’s piece of the pie will wind up?

The day before this came out, City Controller Ronald Green griped to the Chron that he had not been kept in the loop about the details of the bond package, and that the numbers he had been hearing sounded too low to him.

Green said he has heard that the package of bond measures will total approximately $400 million.

“I still believe we need to go out for more bond authorization. I think $400 million is not adequate to meet the needs of the city,” Green said. “If you’re going to ask somebody to vote for bond referendums, you need to be realistic about what it’s going to take to meet a major CIP (capital improvement project) initiative.”

The city should take advantage of low interest rates and ask for $600 million to $800 million, even if that requires a tax increase, Green said.

As we now know, Green’s information about the size of the bond package was accurate. Part of the reason for this is specified in the Mayor’s press release:

In addition to being the smallest bond referendum in 30 years, the mayor’s proposal is approximately $135 to $350 million less than the three previous bond referendums Houston voters have considered in the last 15 years. This is due to ReBuild Houston’s pay-as-you-go approach, which provides approximately $125 million of debt free street and drainage improvements annually. In the absence of ReBuild Houston, the bond request would be larger.

Controller Green’s point about taking advantage of historically low interest rates is certainly meritorious, but one can easily imagine the caterwauling that would result from a proposal that necessitated even a small tax increase. Given how contentious these things have become lately, I can certainly understand taking this approach. It’s also probably why I got a press release just a few hours after the original one announcing the bond package’s details that announced the formation of the campaign to support the package’s passage:

The Vote for Houston’s Future Committee is co-chaired by Philamena Baird, Pam Gardner, Melinda B. Hildebrand, City Councilmember Melissa Noriega and Barron and Lisa Wallace. Finance chairs are Robert Collie, Jr., Jason Few and Neil Thomas. Dean Corgey is the campaign treasurer and Billy Briscoe is the campaign manager.

“In these tough economic times, Houston is leading the way – creating more jobs, borrowing less, and improving the quality of life for all Houstonians for years to come,” said Campaign Co-Chair Pam Gardner, former President of Business Operations for the Houston Astros. “We urge Houstonians to vote for the City Bonds in November.”

The Committee has set up a website: www.JobsParksSafety.com. The site will allow visitors to get detailed information on the bond proposal, sign up for an e-mail newsletter or contact the campaign.

We’ll see what kind of opposition materializes. Campos and Stace have more.

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