A state district judge on Thursday voided the 2010 charter referendum that enabled the city to create the ReBuild Houston program, muddying the fate of the multi-billion-dollar funding scheme to dramatically improve Houston’s streets and drainage.
Visiting Judge Buddie Hahn ordered the city to hold a new election on the drainage fee, though that is unlikely to happen any time soon if the city appeals the decision. Hahn sided with a ruling issued by the Texas Supreme Court in June that said the city had obscured the ballot language surrounding the drainage fee, a major funding source for ReBuild Houston.
By omitting the drainage fee, the Supreme Court said, the city failed to adequately inform voters about the intent of the ballot measure.
In a brief court hearing Thursday, Hahn said he had little discretion because the “Supreme Court has just about said as a matter of law” that the election should be voided.
Mayor Annise Parker said the city has no plans to stop collecting the fee. She echoed City Attorney Donna Edmundson, who said during the summer that the lawsuit targets the charter amendment, not the ordinance City Council later passed to begin collecting the fee.
In a written statement, Parker said the city is “disappointed with the court’s ruling and are considering our legal options,” but “the ordinance remains valid and in effect.”
Voters approved a ballot measure in 2010 that did not make specific mention of the monthly fee, asking instead if the city charter should “be amended to provide for the enhancement, improvement and ongoing renewal of Houston’s drainage and streets by creating a Dedicated Pay-As-You-Go Fund for Drainage and Streets?”
Then, in spring 2011, City Council approved an ordinance that set the fee and authorized its collection.
See here, here, and here for the background, and here for the Mayor’s statement. This is going to be tied up in court for awhile, and the question of whether or not the fee is in fact still in effect will be front and center in that fight. You know my opinion on this, but it’s not like that counts for much. As Bob Stein says later in the story, this ought to be a focal point of the Mayoral runoff, since the next Mayor will have to decide how to handle this – fight to the bitter end, seek to settle, surrender unconditionally, etc. I asked all the Mayoral candidates about ReBuild Houston – heck, I asked all of the At Large Council and Controller candidates about it as well – so go back and listen to some interviews on my 2015 Election page if you want to review their answers. Texas Leftist has more.