Correction: Since publishing this, Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey contacted me to say that the discrepancy is not as bad as this article makes it look. He believes the percentages described below will be applied in a different order resulting in different outcomes. However, he could not provide final totals, saying that the SVI percentages were still being examined. Finally, he emphasized that the money Precinct 3 does get will be put to good use. He also emphasized the need to incorporate miles of roadway in each precinct into the allocation formula. Commissioner Garcia has not responded to my invitation to supply his point of view.
Original Article as First Published
To sell the controversial $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. 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. For example…
But one month into the new administration…
Commissioner Adrian Garcia introduced his complicated allocation scheme in a five-part motion. He never did reveal the totals although he did admit that not every precinct received the minimum. Because he bases his scheme on the CDC’s social vulnerability index, not miles of roads that need to be maintained, Precinct 3 will get less money in total and less than one-fifth the dollars per “lane mile” compared to Garcia’s Precinct 2.
Who Gets How Much
Garcia never revealed totals for each precinct. To learn who gets how much, you have to calculate the totals yourself using a vague procedure Garcia verbally outlined during commissioners court on 1/31/23. It’s a confusing, multi-part formula that requires calculating percentages of percentages of percentages of figures found in different documents. Only after adding totals from three different subcategories does the ugly truth became apparent.
Here’s how I calculated the shortfall. Garcia’s scheme contains three “buckets.”
- Harris County Engineering gets 10% or $110 million.
- Each precinct then gets a flat baseline amount equal to 63.64% of the remainder.
- Each precinct also gets an amount that varies based on the number of “socially vulnerable” residents from the remaining 26.36%.
SVI percentages vary widely. And they radically skew the final totals. Here’s how the math works out.
|Precinct||Baseline Amt.||SVI %||Total Each Precinct|
The final totals could vary slightly if you applied the percentages in a different order. But any way you cut it, P3 still gets far less that the minimum guarantee and $50 – $100 million less than Democratic precincts..
This PDF explains what the 10% for Engineering covers and lists SVI populations in each precinct. SVI stands for the CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index. However, Garcia does not list a source or date for the SVI numbers, so we have to take his word for their accuracy.
Now, remember, this is primarily a road bond. So, let’s also look at how this allocation translates into dollars per lane mile.
Precinct 3 has 2-3X the lane miles compared to other precincts. Yet it gets the smallest allocation. Compared to Garcia’s Precinct 2…
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? You could build a case for “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 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.
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. As with the Flood Bond and the Equity Prioritization Framework, this is another example of changing the deal after voters vote.
Discussion went like this.
- County Judge Lina Hidalgo asked whether the final totals meet the $220 million commitment made before the election.
- Garcia replied, “No.” Then, instead of explaining, he obfuscates. He quickly 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.” And Hidalgo never circles back to ask what Garcia meant by “No.”
Despite Precinct 3 Commissioner Ramsey’s reservations and his plea for more time to study the impact of the proposal, the Dems approved Garcia’s allocation formula on the spot. This was carefully rehearsed.
Garcia also revealed other 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 (a second time).
Other Brazen Recommendations
Encouraged by a 4:1 majority on commissioners court, Democrats have become brazen. Tuesday’s 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 asked for an “exit strategy” from the 2018 flood bond three times, 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. He never mentions Precinct 3 by name at this point. But P3 has the vast majority of projects that still haven’t gone into construction.
So, when Garcia asked for an exit strategy, it suddenly dawned on me why Democrats are dilly-dallying with the HUD application.
That could push independents toward the blue column…at least those not paying close attention.
The concerns outlined above 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.
Garcia addressed none of those issues. Only one thing is clear. Last Tuesday was a tipping point in the history of Harris County.
If Commissioner Garcia wishes to write a rebuttal, I will post it.
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.