Though this is not an endorsement, and our Board or Directors has not voted on a stance, we have had a few members express interest in sharing some information surrounding the upcoming election. Below is a letter written by Greater Houston Partnership to their membership. Please feel free to send any comments, concerns, or responses to firstname.lastname@example.org
I write today to inform you of the Greater Houston Partnership’s positions on the two City of Houston ballot items for voters to consider in the November 6 general election. The Partnership’s Board of Directors and Executive Committee have voted to take the following positions:
SUPPORT: Proposition A related to the ReBuild Houston program that improves drainage and street infrastructure
AGAINST: Proposition B related to the fire union’s ballot item, sometimes referred to as pay parity
I wanted to share more information about these two items and why the Partnership is taking these positions.
SUPPORT: Prop A – ReBuild Houston
This item may sound familiar as Houston voters approved the original ReBuild Houston program in 2010. This original ballot item established a ‘lockbox’ to hold revenues from a new drainage fee and other funding sources established to fund badly-needed infrastructure improvements. You may recall there was a petition filed that protested the original ballot language of that item. A judge ruled that the City had to hold a revote on the item.
This November, voters will be asked to reaffirm the ‘lockbox’ mechanism designed to ensure the funds from the fee will be dedicated to drainage and street improvements. As we all know, the issue of Houston’s drainage infrastructure has become more critical in the wake of Hurricane Harvey and the other flood events over the last couple of years. Should Prop A fail, these revenues would no longer be held in the lockbox and may be used for purposes other than streets and drainage.
The City reports that since 2012, ReBuild Houston has provided more than $800M in drainage improvements and paid $1.1B toward old infrastructure debt.
Our position is based on the notion that we believe having the lockbox in place, restricting the funds to improve drainage and streets, is far better than opening the funds up to unrestricted access. I should add we are also working with City leaders to ensure greater transparency in the program moving forward.
AGAINST: Prop B – Fire Union Petition
First, to be clear, we respect and support our fire fighters and police officers. They put themselves on the line every single day to protect every Houstonian and for that, we are grateful.
Prop B has garnered wide-spread media attention as Houston’s fire union circulated a petition to place an item on the ballot that they claim will equalize pay between fire fighters and the equivalent-rank police officers.
Prop B Creates an Unequal System
We agree that equal pay for equal work is essential, but Prop B actually creates an unequal system. When taking into account the full scope of special incentive pay categories, retirement and other benefits, Prop B would force the city to pay fire fighters substantially more than police. To call this ‘pay parity’ is a misnomer.
Here are a few examples of the unintended consequences of this ballot item:
Police officers are required to buy their own equipment, fire fighters are not – yet they would receive the same equipment stipend. Police are required to earn certain academic degrees to progress in rank, fire fighters are not – yet they would receive the same education stipend. Prop B also completely ignores the pension benefits fire fighters earn over the years which is significantly more attractive than the police plan. While Prop B promises parity, it is anything but equal.
The City Cannot Afford a $100 million Salary Increase
The Partnership and other community stakeholders worked for more than three years to reform the City’s pension plans. Prop B would force the City to take a step back and waste those tremendous gains that put our City on a firmer financial footing.
Simply put, the City can’t afford Prop B – it will cost $100 million or more in the first and subsequent years. This would necessitate budget and service cuts within the General Fund budget just as pension costs were beginning to do prior to reform. Prop B would make it even harder for the City to reach a balanced budget, maintain a strong balance sheet and credit rating, and provide adequate and timely City services. Keep in mind that growth in the City property tax revenue is capped, so the City would have to make room within its existing budget to accommodate this 25%+ pay raise.
To put this $100 million+ figure into perspective, if the City were to pay for this through an across-the-board budget cut:
Some estimates indicate this would lead to the layoffs of more than 330 police officers and 230 fire fighters; increasing response times and decreasing the safety and security of our community.
The petition would also force the closure of community centers and swimming pools, reduce library hours, reduce level of parks maintenance, plus there would be interruptions to trash pick-up.
In taking this position, we do not dispute the fact that fire fighters are due for a raise, but we do not think forcing this through a poorly-constructed ballot item is the right path. We encourage the City and fire union to go back to the drawing board to create a pay system that increases fairness and improves public safety, while also being fiscally responsible.
The Bottom Line
In short, it helps me to remember: Prop A is ‘Good’ and Prop B is ‘Bad’ for Houston.
We encourage you, your employees and colleagues to consider these issues and the merits of our positions. Early voting begins October 22 and Election Day is November 6.
Thank you for engaging in this important election for our city.
President and CEO