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Bruce Hotze

Three things in life are certain

Death, taxes, and Bruce Hotze filing a lawsuit every time he loses an election.

A local anti-tax activist filed a lawsuit Thursday to block the city of Houston from borrowing $410 million to add, expand and repair parks, libraries, police and fire stations and other government buildings.

Bruce Hotze’s suit says the bond measures, which voters overwhelmingly approved last month, should be nullified because the city failed to follow its own rules when placing them on the ballot.

Specifically, the city failed to hold public hearings or publish the financial details of the bond package before the election, according to the suit, which was filed in Harris County District Court.

Hotze also accused the city of improperly including multiple items within two propositions that promised to remove “obsolete” language from its charter in a separate suit filed Thursday. The law, he said, requires each item to be listed separately.

City Attorney Dave Feldman described the suit as frivolous, saying Hotze is “wrong on the facts and wrong on the law.”

The good news is that Hotze has an equally impressive record of losing these lawsuits, and it would seem likely he is destined to lose this one again. Dude needs a more constructive hobby, that’s what I think. The case number is 201274327-7 and it’s in the 11th District Civil Court, if anyone of a more lawyerly bent than I wants to offer a critique of it. Stace has more.

Same old story: City wins, Hotze loses

Yes, they’re still litigating 2004 ballot propositions around here.

The Texas Supreme Court has dismissed a six-year-old case against the City of Houston seeking to limit the city government’s annual income.

Carroll Robinson, Bruce Hotze and Jeffrey Daily sought to make Proposition 2, passed by voters in 2004, the law of the city. It capped revenue from all sources. The city never implemented it because on the same ballot a city-sponsored revenue cap, Proposition 1, passed with more votes than Proposition 2 received.

Proposition 1 only limits revenues raised for the general fund, which pays police officers, firefighters, garbage collectors, and the like. Proposition 2 includes a cap on so-called “enterprise” revenues — money made at the airport, convention center and through water bills, for example.

If Proposition 2 ruled the day, the city could be forced to shrink the general fund to stay under the cap if, for example, a lot more people used the airport and the city collected resulting fees. Or, if people used a lot more water during, say, a long drought, and a lot more water bill money poured into city coffers.

No, I didn’t realize there were still any active cases relating to this. Looking in my archives, the last rulings I see were from over three years ago. You might think this would be the end of it, but if you did you would be wrong, as the losers are saying that the Supremes didn’t rule on the merits of the case. So maybe by the year 2018 we’ll have some finality on this.

Bettencourt and Hotze lose in court again

If there’s a lawsuit against the city over a matter of how money is raised or spent, you can be sure that Bruce Hotze and Paul Bettencourt are involved. Thankfully, they have a lousy record of getting what they want by these means.

An Austin appeals court on Friday upheld an earlier ruling that increased water rates passed by Houston City Council last year are valid, ruling that two activists who intervened in the suit had no standing to appeal.

Bruce Hotze and former Harris County tax assessor Paul Bettencourt had intervened in the suit, which the city initiated last year to seek validation of City Council’s April 21, 2010, vote to raise water and sewer rates by nearly 30 percent for the average residential user. The new water rates took effect last June.

Bettencourt said he and Hotze are weighing their next steps, calling it a “tough ruling” that presented “long odds.”

The pair claimed the rate increases violated a 2004 amendment to the city charter that limits rate increases to the combined rate of inflation and population growth in a given year.

See here, here, and here for some background. Mayor Parker put out a sharply worded statement after the ruling came down that criticized Hotze and Bettencourt for costing the city millions of dollars:

Bettencourt and Hotze attempted to challenge the new water and sewer rates approved a year ago by Houston City Council. Due to their intervention, the City has been unable to obtain approval to move forward with a $300 million bond sale needed to finance capital improvements for the City’s Combined Utility System. The delay has put the City at risk for an estimated $37.72 million in higher interest costs over the life of the bonds.

“This legal fight has cost Houston taxpayers dearly,” said Mayor Annise Parker. “Mr. Bettencourt and Mr. Hotze have now lost in the courts twice. It is time for them to end this needless and very expensive game that has prevented the City from following through on improvements to its water and sewer system.”

“This is a significant legal victory and should mark the end of the road in the challenge made by Bettencourt and Hotze,” said City Attorney David Feldman. “We knew from the start there was no legal basis for their challenge. It is unfortunate that they chose to take this on because they hurt taxpayers.”

Bettencourt whined that it was really all the city’s fault for not doing things the way he wanted them done. After going 0 for 2 in the courts, he doesn’t have much of a leg to stand on for that. Hopefully this will be the end of the foolishness, and the city can get down to the business it needs to do.

The anti-Prop 1 factions gear up

The usual suspects have gotten the band back together to ensure that no action is taken to mitigate flooding in Houston.

Former Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt has teamed up with anti-tax advocate Bruce Hotze and conservative activist Norman Adams, significant players in a previously successful effort to scuttle a drainage fee during the Lee Brown administration. They reformed the “No Rain Tax” PAC, Bettencourt said, and expect to raise enough money to run radio ads and phone banks against the measure.

Bettencourt said it was “preposterous” that the details about how the program would be implemented have yet to emerge with the vote only five weeks away.

“This is an open-ended blank check from the taxpayers,” he said.

I’ll stipulate that it’s taken a long time for all of the details of Prop 1 to be finalized. But let’s be clear, that’s just a convenient excuse for these guys. Had there been a fully realized plan six months ago, with every i dotted and t crossed, they’d claim some other reason to oppose this. That’s because they don’t want to pay any money to alleviate flooding problems in Houston. I don’t know if that’s because they don’t think there are flooding problems in Houston, or because they’re too cheap to pay the five bucks a month that Prop 1 would cost them, but I do know that in the nine years since the last time they defeated a proposal that was intended to tackle this problem, they haven’t offered any solutions of their own, or supported any candidates that offered a solution that they approved of. Thus, my conclusion that they’re not interested in being part of any solution.

I point that out to say once again that the choice here is not between Prop 1 and some alternate plan that you think would be cheaper or more effective or faster to implement or fairer or whatever. The choice is between Prop 1 and doing nothing for another decade or so, because I guarantee that if Prop 1 goes down, no further attempt will be made to tackle the problem until long after everyone has forgotten about this one. If you agree with Bettencourt, Hotze, and Adams that flooding isn’t a problem, then your choice is clear. If you’re voting against Prop 1 because you believe there’s a better way to solve the problem, then I look forward to seeing you work to get your preferred solution implemented, whatever it may be. As someone who does believe there is a problem, I’d hate to have to wait another ten years before we try to fix it.

As far as that faux concern about not knowing what the specifics will be, Mayor Parker has now set forth the details of the drainage fee. Council will not vote on it before the election, but there will probably be a resolution presented to Council so the principles of the Mayor’s plan can be approved. Yes, we should have had the details sooner than this. But I’ve believed from the beginning that the principle of needing to deal with this was sound, and that has been my motivation for supporting this effort.

One more thing:

Stan Merriman, a local Democratic activist who opposes the initiative and is working with [a different anti-Prop 1 PAC], said he could not support a fee structure that would require the same amount from an owner of a 5,000-square-foot-lot in Sunnyside and River Oaks.

“That’s fundamentally unfair,” he said.

Now that we have the Mayor’s plan for Prop 1 implementation, I hope it’s clear that Merriman’s assertion is factually wrong. Merriman has posted his bullet-point list of objections to Prop 1 in the comments to a couple of my posts as well as at Stace’s place. Among other things, he seems to be saying that there’s very little we can actually do about flooding, which was not something that he mentioned in his previous writing when he said that we should be “viewing such a project as one perfect for federal stimulus funds”. Be that as it may, I’ll say again that if Prop 1 does go down, I look forward to supporting the effort that Merriman and others like him plan to lead to do something about this. Because otherwise, if they don’t have one, they’re just agreeing with Bettencourt, Hotze, and Adams that there is no flooding problem in Houston.

UPDATE: Here’s the official link to the principles for Prop 1.

City gets OK on water rate hike

One obstacle cleared.

In a letter to lawyers representing the city and conservative activists Bruce Hotze and Paul Bettencourt on Monday, state District Judge Stephen Yelenosky said the rate increases do not violate a charter amendment approved by voters in 2004 that limits increases to the combined rate of inflation and population growth in any given year.

[…]

If Bettencourt and Hotze do not appeal, the city can begin to issue new bonds backed by the higher rates that will pay for vast infrastructure improvement plans and upkeep for the water and sewer system, [City Attorney David] Feldman said.

I presume this was the “rate validation lawsuit”, which Bettencourt and Hotze had challenged. They have not filed their own lawsuit, as far as I know. We’ll see what they do from here – they’re not the give up easily kind.

And the bitching about the water rate hike begins

It took a little longer than I might have thought it would take, but as the sun rises in the east, the kind of person who gets outraged when the government does something other than lower taxes is outraged about the city’s water rate hike.

Republican activist Paul Bettencourt plans to challenge the city of Houston’s drastic water rate increases in court on Monday, saying Mayor Annise Parker has taken an “abominable” step in passing increases that go far beyond the limits outlined in a 2004 voter referendum.

[…]

Bettencourt, former Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector, said he is so outraged by Parker’s decision that he is considering setting up a political action committee to fight the increases, which in the coming years will raise water and sewer rates on an average residential homeowner by nearly 30 percent. City Council passed the increases last month in an 11-3 vote.

“If you’re going to make a contract with the public and get them to vote on it and get them to pass the vote, then by God you better honor that contract,” Bettencourt said of Proposition 1, a charter amendment passed in 2004 with the backing of then-Mayor Bill White and City Council. “I saw the campaign. I know what the public approved, and I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that the public vote is followed … This is outrageous behavior by government.”

Bettencourt said he will be joined Monday by Bruce Hotze, one of the driving forces behind a competing 2004 amendment limiting the city’s ability to increase the revenues it receives from taxpayers that was also approved by voters. The city has argued that it can ignore Hotze’s proposition because Proposition 1 obtained more votes. The question remains mired in litigation.

Bettencourt further criticized the city’s decision to seek judicial approval of its rate increases in Travis County, rather than in Harris County, where ratepayers could more easily contest the decision.

Whatever. As I said, this is why I opposed those propositions back in 2004. It’s a stupid way to run a government. But let me propose a compromise: The city goes ahead with its plans, and Bettencourt and Hotze disconnect their houses from the city’s water system. I mean, why should the government be foisting socialist water on them when they can get all their water needs met by the free market? That way, they can avoid the rate increase, and the rest of us can start to deal with the serious issue of ensuring the safety and adequacy of the water supply. It’s a win-win all around.