8.18.22 Commissioners Court special meeting on bond

Garcia’s $1.2 Billion Mystery Tax Going on November 8th Ballot

Three bonds that amount to a $1.2 billion mystery tax will go on the November ballot in Harris County. In a special Harris County Commissioner’s Court meeting on Thursday 8/18/22, three Democrats voted for the bonds in another carefully orchestrated meeting. They did not:

  • Make the bond language public before (or after) the meeting.
  • Release even a partial list of projects that the money will go towards.
  • Address how the bond will be promoted or who will promote it.
  • Discuss the lopsided distribution of funds ($160 million more for each Democratic precinct).
  • Define how phrases such as, “worst first” will be defined.
  • Allow Republican commissioners to ask questions.
  • Explain why they wanted another bond when approximately half a billion dollars remains from the last one in 2015.

Aside from three-high level categories of spending (public safety, roads and parks), nothing in the bonds says exactly how or where the money will be spent.

Debate Cut Off with Questions Unanswered

After Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia made three motions to approve three separate bonds, Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis seconded them. County Judge Lina Hidalgo extolled their benefits and called members of the public who spoke against the bonds liars.

In a carefully stage-managed meeting, Hidalgo insisted the bonds would not raise taxes, but once again blurred the distinction between tax rates and tax bills. Budget Manager Daniel Ramos repeatedly said property valuations were going up. However…

Neither Hidalgo, nor Ramos discussed the combined impact of the rate multiplied by much higher property valuations over 25 years.

Hidalgo has consistently avoided that discussion.

Despite attempts by Republican Commissioners Tom Ramsey and Jack Cagle to ask questions, the Democrats used their majority to invoke a parliamentary procedure known as “calling the question.” Calling the question stops debate (which never started in this case) and calls for an immediate vote on a proposal. The three Democrats voted YES to call the question. The two Republicans voted NO.

Hidalgo then called an immediate vote on the three bond proposals. Each passed 3-2. Hidalgo adjourned the meeting.

Video of Politics at Its Most Brutal

This meeting was a microwave version of most court meetings in the last four years. If you want to get a good feeling for Harris County politics before you vote, I highly recommend watching it. The last public speaker ends at 36:28 and approval of the bond begins. You can view the entire video here. It only lasts another 15-20 minutes.

But first, you may want to watch this 20-second clip posted on YouTube in which Hidalgo brands members of the public who spoke against the bond as liars.

Video clip showing start of discussion after public comments. Compare audio with official transcript below.

In the official transcript, someone redacted the lying comment.

8/20/22 screen capture of official transcript. Red type added to indicate text and location of omission.

Accidental or intentional? You be the judge.

Bond Language Concealed from Public Beforehand

While you are at it, click on the meeting’s agenda and see if you can find the bond language they “voted” on.

Clicking on the links and tabs within the agenda item for the bond showed no linked PDFs with bond language.

Clicking on Legislation Details brought up this page.

Blank page for Legislation Details where bond text should have been linked.

Clicking on “Legislative Details with Text” brought up these pages, which contained only a high-level summary of the bonds.

Omissions Open Door to Redirection of Funds

I had to specifically request the bond language from Commissioner Ramsey’s office. You can review the entire bond text here. Two omissions jumped out at me.

  • “Worst first” isn’t defined. Commissioner Cagle complained about that, among other things, starting at 47:30 in the video.
  • There is no mention of at least $220 million going to each precinct.

In 2019, Garcia, Ellis and Hidalgo cried “worst first” to justify their prioritization of flood-bond projects. After passage of the bond, they defined “worst” as watersheds with high percentages of Low-to-Moderate Income Residents, regardless of how badly those watersheds flooded. Those watersheds have received more than a billion dollars to date while areas that received 20+ feet of water above flood stage have received virtually nothing from the bond.

The bond language also makes no mention of at least $220 million going to each precinct, a concession approved in the previous meeting which Hidalgo repeatedly referenced.

When Cagle tried to raise these issues, Garcia and Hidalgo cut him off. The three called the question, voted and left the room.

The next meeting of commissioners court will vote on two proposals to promote the bond which have not gone through a competitive bidding process. See items 427 and 428. Sorry, there’s no backup on those either. So much for transparency!

No one except Garcia, Ellis and Hidalgo know why we need the bonds, where the money will go, or who will get the benefit. That’s why I call this bond a mystery tax.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/20/22

1817 Days since Hurricane Harvey

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