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On the city bonds

Here’s an overview of the city bond issues.

The city of Houston is asking voters on Nov. 6 for permission to borrow $410 million to shore up its parks, police stations, libraries, other government buildings and substandard housing.

Propositions A, B, C, D and E for the most part are what Mayor Annise Parker calls “housekeeping” the city does every four to six years to add to, expand, renovate or repair city buildings and other public property. None of them requires a tax increase to pay principal and interest that over decades could mount to an estimated $719 million.

However, the propositions draw voters into a debate over city debt that has largely been confined to the City Council table and a task force that last year examined the city’s long-term finances.

The borrowing is the lowest amount the city has asked the voters for in 30 years. In 2006, the ask was $625 million. Without the new bond measure, Parker explained, city government won’t be able to carry out its five-year plan to continue to fix leaky roofs, repair fire station foundations, renovate old libraries, repair swimming pools and demolish abandoned apartment buildings.

“It’s like a pre-qualification for a mortgage. That’s basic. We’re going to the voters and saying, ‘Can we borrow money in these categories?’‚ÄČ” Parker said.

Opponents of the measures say it’s more like continuing a spending binge with a credit card.

As Mayor Parker said when I interviewed her about the bonds, for the most part these are projects that went through the CIP process and were approved by Council. This is how the city pays for projects like these – it’s how nearly every entity pays for capital improvement projects, since it’s exceedingly impractical to pay for them out of cash. There’s really nothing remarkable here, save perhaps for the extra dollops of debt hysteria.

Two more things to note. One is that Proposition E, which is listed on the ballot as being about “affordable housing efforts”, is really about paying for the demolition of derelict properties so that some better use can be made of the land. The other is that CM Oliver Pennington is quoted in the story as being a supporter of the propositions, he just thinks the city should have asked to borrow less than $410 million for them. This make him more than a supporter of the parks bond. Not that it really matters, I just like to nitpick.

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