The ReBuild Houston Saga Ratchets Up

To outgoing Mayor Annise Parker, and at least one candidate hoping to succeed her, the innovative ReBuild Houston program is viewed as a signature accomplishment.

To others desperate for every last vote, the program comes with hesitant support, if not outright opposition, mostly due to “poor implementation. Thankfully for them, the issue has received little Press during this election cycle.

But today, ReBuild Houston enters the fray, just hours before we see Election Results.  Here’s the story from Katherine Driessen of the Houston Chronicle…

A trial court judge ruled Thursday that the ballot measure Houston voters narrowly approved in 2010 obscured the nature and cost of the drainage fee at the heart of the city’s multi-billion dollar ReBuild Houston program, effectively voiding the election.

Judge Buddie Hahn ordered the city to hold a new election on the drainage fee, though that’s unlikely to happen immediately as appeals get underway. Hahn sided with a ruling issued by the Texas Supreme Court in June, saying the city had failed to make clear the ballot language surrounding the drainage fee, part of the city’s effort to dramatically improve Houston’s roads and drainage during the next two decades.

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.

Conservative activists, who deride the fee as a “rain tax,” filed suit against the city in 2010. The city originally prevailed at trial court, but opponents appealed. Now, attorney Andy Taylor is calling on the city to halt collection of the drainage fee altogether.

All along, opponents have claimed that there’s no possible way that voters could understand what they were getting themselves into back in 2010.   So from the viewpoint of Conservative lawyers, Council Member Michael Kubosh and Mayoral Candidate Bill King, this ruling should be the “nail in the coffin” for ReBuild.  But to be frank, this argument borders on the ridiculous.  As fellow blogger Off the Kuff so well reasoned back in June, if you could read the ballot, you knew that a vote for ReNew Houston was a vote for a fee.  Quantum Mechanics it ain’t.

However that just about in the judges’ statement proves to be of import.  According to the Mayor’s Office,  the 2010 election results still apply.   Per City of Houston Press Release…

We are disappointed with the court’s ruling and are considering our legal options, including a possible appeal.  This case places at risk the voter approved amendment to the City Charter that prohibits the City from using debt financing or spending the drainage fee on anything other than street and drainage improvements.  Those two issues have nothing to do with whether the city is able to continue the Rebuild Houston program and the collection of the drainage fee.  The ordinance remains valid and in effect.

It may not have garnered constant press attention like the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance or the City’s looming Pension woes, but the fate of ReBuild Houston will prove critical to the future of Texas’ largest (and rapidly growing larger) city.  At the end of the day, if Houston can’t repair and improve its infrastructure, the Southeast Texas region, and the whole state will suffer greatly.

If you’d like more information on where 2015 Municipal Candidates stand on ReBuild Houston, check out the TLCQ Questionnaire Response page.

ReBuild Houston

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