While trying to sell the controversial, “detail-free” $1.1 Billion Road and Parks bond in 2022, Democrats on Harris County Commissioners Court passed a resolution promising voters that each precinct would get at least $220 million. But according to an allocation formula approved on 1/31/23, Precinct 3 will get tens of millions of dollars less despite having two to three times more road miles to maintain than other precincts.
That $220-million promise was designed to reassure voters in Republican precincts that they would see benefit from the bond despite the vague language.
Here’s how I calculated the shortfall. Garcia claims it won’t be that much, but has not revealed how he calculated his result. My calculations follow what he described verbally in Tuesday’s meeting, but admittedly, Garcia was vague. Regardless of how you calculate the allocation though, Precinct 3 comes up tens of millions of dollars short of the promised $220 million and far short of other precincts – yet it has far more roads to maintain.
Promises made before the 2018 flood bond election were also broken by Democrats. That’s why voters were wary and the $220-million promise was necessary. For instance, right now, of the 18 active Flood-Bond Contruction projects in the county, NOT ONE is in a Republican-led precinct. And Garcia is looking for an “exit strategy” from the flood bond.
Now, with the 2022 bond, Garcia’s formula ensures his precinct will get $305 million – $130 million more than Precinct 3. Likewise, Ellis’ Precinct 2 will get $100 million more than Precinct 3.
Yet Precinct 3 has 47% of all the roads that Harris County maintains – 2-3X more than other precincts according to Commissioner Tom Ramsey. But that consideration never even factored into Garcia’s allocation … FOR A ROAD BOND. (See tables below.)
Allocations per Precinct
Garcia’s formula for allocating the $1.1 billion 2022 Road and Parks bond contains three buckets:
- Harris County Engineering gets 10% or $110 million.
- Each precinct gets a flat baseline amount of $157,509 (($990 million X 63.64%)/4)
- Each precinct also gets an amount that varies based on socially vulnerable population (($990 million X 26.36%)/% of SVI total in county)
Here’s how the math works out.
|Precinct||Baseline Amt.||SVI %||Total Each Precinct|
This PDF explains what the 10% for Engineering covers and lists SVI populations in each precinct (those that rank high on the CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index) for each precinct. However, the backup does not list a source or date for the SVI numbers.
Now, remember, this is primarily a road bond. So, let’s look at how this allocation translates into dollars per lane mile.
So, you can see how this plays out. Compared to Garcia’s Precinct 2, Precinct 3 has triple the lane miles and a little more than half the allocation. Thus, Precinct 3 gets less than one-fifth the dollars per lane mile – $26 million vs $137 million.
During the hotly contested redistricting process in 2021, Democrats gave Ramsey the lion’s share of unincorporated Harris County to maintain. Now, the final shoe drops. They denied him the ability to maintain those roads.
What Do YOU Call It?
Is this a political vendetta? Voter fraud? Financial fraud? Theft of services? A bald-faced lie? Business as usual in Harris County Commissioners Court? Or all of the above? Frankly, I’d go with “all of the above.” In my opinion:
- If this were the prospectus for a new stock offering, the Securities and Exchange Commission would likely launch an investigation.
- If it were an advertisement, the Federal Trade Commission could level hefty “bait-and-switch” fines.
- If this were medicine, patients could level malpractice claims.
- If you told someone you were going to provide $50 million worth of services and then didn’t, but still took their money, the Texas Attorney General could build a felony case for theft of services.
- Right now, the New York attorney general is suing a former U.S. President for making misleading financial statements.
But steal $50 million from the voters in Precinct 3 and the Harris County Attorney goes MIA. Commissioner Adrian Garcia, (the County’s former chief law enforcement officer), pooh-poohed the $220 million guarantee in Tuesday’s meeting as unimportant.
Need to Reveal Calculations and Allocations
County Judge Lina Hidalgo asked whether the final totals meet the $220 million commitment made before the election.
Garcia replies, “No.” Then, he obfuscates. He launches into a description of how the formula incorporates socially vulnerable populations. Garcia never does say what the totals are.
Ellis responds, “I’m fine with that.”
Despite reservations and a plea for more time to study the impact by Precinct 3 Commissioner Ramsey, the Dems approved Garcia’s allocation formula. You can see video and a complete transcript of the discussion here, starting at 4:15:13.
Before the vote on the bond in November, Garcia could have offered up his allocation formula. But he didn’t do that. And before the vote on the allocation formula Tuesday, Garcia could have easily said, “Here’s what each Precinct will get.” But he didn’t do that either.
Instead he offered up a confusing multi-part formula that required readers to calculate percentages of percentages of percentages found in different documents. Then they had to add the totals from three different subcategories together before the ugly truth became apparent.
The $220 million minimum was promoted to voters on the web, in the press, at community meetings, and in handouts and flyers county-wide for three months prior to the November election.
But being shortchanged by $50 million wasn’t the only surprise on Tuesday. Garcia also revealed other “backup” screening criteria for project consideration. Just in case you thought a project benefitting you might squeak through, the eligibility criteria involve factors such as:
- A 25% weighting for project location.
- The Equity Prioritization Framework which gives 65% weight to population density and social vulnerability (again).
Other Brazen Recommendations
Had Precinct 4 not flipped to the blue column last November, things might have been different Tuesday. But encouraged by a 4:1 majority on commissioners court, Democrats have become brazen. Tuesday’s nasty revelation concerning the 2022 bond was one of many.
- Commissioners still didn’t take any action on the $750 million in HUD funds that have been sitting on the table for a year and nine months.
- That $750 million could pay for every unfunded project in the 2018 flood bond. But instead of asking why Community Services has not prepared a detailed plan that HUD could approve, Commissioners allocated $64 million from local Toll Road funds to keep flood projects moving in Democratic precincts.
- Garcia repeatedly asked for an “exit strategy” from the 2018 flood bond, claiming we don’t have enough money to do all the projects, while not even acknowledging the $750 million in untapped HUD funds sitting on the table.
When Garcia asked for an exit strategy from the flood bond over and over again, it suddenly dawned on me why Democrats are dilly-dallying with the HUD application.
Again, in my opinion, that could push independents toward the blue column…at least those not paying close attention.
But back to the current $1.1 bond for roads and parks. The concerns outlined above re: being deceived, shortchanged and denied enough money to maintain roads are serious. But those aren’t the only concerns. Readers have written asking:
1) Will there be transparency for this bond like we had for the flood bond? Or will this turn into another give away to campaign donors?
2) How were the SVI numbers calculated? Are they available for review? How can we trust those numbers?
3) What other large public agency divides infrastructure money by SVI? Prove that it is a “best practice” and not a way to game the system to get more money in Precinct 2.
4) This is clearly political punishment for Precinct 3 that puts Republican lives at risk. Is this the example that Harris County “leadership” wants to set for future generations?
5) Are we fueling more distrust in government which has been steadily declining.
Only one thing is clear. Last Tuesday was a tipping point in the history of Harris County.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/2/2023
1983 Days since Hurricane Harvey
The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.