There are five propositions up for vote in Houston, otherwise known as “bond issues.” For those of you unfamiliar with the way this works, here’s a quick FAQ.
Bond issues do not technically require a tax increase because they are paid by essentially borrowing money, which is later paid back with interest. Investors buy the bonds, which are attractive because returns are nearly guaranteed, and because of the low tax rate typically attached to interest. However, because taxpayers are the ones funding city expenses, the responsibility of paying for initiatives is ultimately on their shoulders. Therefore, the selling of bonds may end up causing a tax increase in the future.
No matter how you slice it, taxes fund the projects in the long-term. This means that every proposition—even those which will benefit a small percent of Houstonians—imposes a burden on all taxpayers. In this sense, they are frequently a money grab by special interests who believe their project is “necessary” enough to ask everyone else to fund it. While they typically always sound appealing (investing in parks, education, infrastructure, safety, etc.) they are not always worthwhile.
My definition of “worthwhile” is something that A) cannot be done better by the private sector, B) promises a return on the investment, and C) can be justified as a reasonable cause for confiscating the income of taxpayers.
These three criteria—especially the last one—are hard to measure in certain terms, so it ultimately comes down to personal judgment. Accordingly, here are my thoughts on the five propositions. (click here for a pdf outlining the propositions)
PROP A: “PUBLIC SAFETY”
This is asking for $144 million for improvements and expansion of police and firehouse facilities, which I deem an important party of basic municipal government. Whether it is worthwhile depends on how many of these “repairs” and “expansions” are sticking to necessity instead of convenience. Nevertheless, I’m for it.
PROP B: “PARKS”
$166 million for leisure and landscaping is hardly a priority in my view. This proposition would fancy up a number of parks and put $100 million toward connecting some of them along certain waterways (Bayou Greenways Project), all because a Mayor from the 1910’s had a vision for it. Well, Houston is not zoned and the private market fluctuates according to needs far better than century-long city planning. And, yes, private investment in parks absolutely happens. In fact, the Bayou Greenways Project also depends on $100 million in additional private gifts. We can do that part without incurring debt, so I’m against this one.
PROP C: “SANITATION”
This proposition smells. When I first read about it, I thought it had to do with keeping our sewage systems working and our water clean. I’d support that. But it doesn’t—this is all about improving recycling facilities and other environmental initiatives. But WATCH OUT because the ballot says nothing about recycling, only health/sanitation. I hold my ground that if recycling was actually a net-positive for the world, governments would not be going into debt for it. People will argue with me about that, but that’s my position. Without explaining in more detail how exactly this proposition is fixing a sanitation problem, I’m against it.
PROP D: “LIBRARY”
A mere $28 million to replace two public libraries and renovate two others. That’s not a huge dent in our wallets, so I’m a bit indifferent. However, given the power of the internet and the proliferation of e-books, it seems odd that we would be investing in brick-and-mortar facility. The buildings may be outdated, but so is this model of distributing information. At the risk of seeming anti-education, I have to say I lean against it.
PROP E: “AFFORDABLE HOUSING”
Again, $15 million is a drop in the bucket, but this is to demolish old buildings to make room for new federal housing projects, which have been shown time and time again to be a horrible “solution” to poverty. Grouping extremely low-income people together in cheap housing that they do not pay for and have no responsibility for is a recipe for crime, lowered property values, destroyed communities and a culture of poverty that becomes harder to break from. I’m all for getting rid of blight, but it should be because a developer wants to turn it into something useful to society. I’m against it.
There you have it: one “for” and four “against.” Well, not too much surprise there. As any regular reader of this blog knows, I have very little faith in government, a lot of faith in private markets and a distain for fiscal irresponsibility and misplaced priorities. Hope you guys get out and exercise your franchise. Polls close at 7 pm. Find your voting location here.