Houston Mayor Asks For $410 Million Bond Referendum

flickr image taken by Ed Schipul
Houston's Mayor wants voters to approve a $410 million bond referendum for capital improvement projects throughout the city.

The $410 million bond package will go on the November ballot.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker says the referendum does not require a tax increase and is the lowest bond package the city
has requested in 30 years.

"It's important, just like Houston households, that city council keep a close eye on how we're stretching taxpayer dollars and how much we can truly afford and this is an affordable proposal below our debt capacity."

The mayor says the referendum is essentially the city asking for permission to take out debt, although that does not mean
the city will actually borrow the full amount authorized.

Parker's plan allocates the money to public safety, health and facilities, affordable housing, parks and libraries. Voters would cast their ballots in each of those categories. Parker says she knows the needs in Houston are more than $410 million, but that's what the city coffers can handle.

"We could put a little more money in here, we could not put a significant amount more money in here. I think it's better to be able to go to the voters and say we can comfortably accomodate $410 million of debt with room for a downturn in the economy, should one occur, and no tax increase. And going beyond that would require a tax increase and we would have to disclose that to the voters."

Some councilmembers expressed doubts that the city could handle additional debt burden. Parker says the city's debt threshold is about $425 million, which gives them a $15 million cushion.

Councilmember Mike Sullivan says he's skeptical about the plan because it isn't specific about which projects it will fund.

"It is so undefined it would be unwise for me to take a position to support it. I'm supportive of more money for parks. I'm supportive of more money for police and fire and general administration. However, it has to be specified."

But Mayor Parker says there's a reason it's not more specific.

"We don't have any responsibility to specify the projects, because we don't have to borrow the money unless we need it. It's authorization. It doesn't grant us any money. It grants us the authorization to take out ... it's like you get pre-approved for a mortgage. We're getting pre-approved for our mortgage."

The city last issued a bond referendum in 2006.

Houston's bond package won't be the only one on the ballot. HISD plans to ask voters to approve a $1.9 billion bond issuance with a 7 cent property tax increase.

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Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...