Texas, Houston Has a Problem

January 1, 2003 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

Unless someone can think of a reason to prevent it, the Texas Legislature will gather in Austin this month to write the wrongs of our beloved state. Every other year when this happens, the City of Houston and the County of Harris go to the State of Texas with a List of Problems. These matters are put before the Legislature and may deal with anything from the police department to toll roads. True, it makes no sense that Houston would need the vote of a shepherd from south of Ozona to allow us to build a football stadium, but we do.

Some of the changes affecting just the Houston area are laws passed by the two Houses and signed by the governor. Others are changes in the Texas Constitution, which then have to be voted on by the people of Texas, like they care. For example, the state constitution sets the ad valorem property tax for one of Harris County’s rural fire prevention districts. It’s nice to be noticed, but you have to wonder about priorities.

When dealing with a bill involving our fair city, the officeholders deny that it is a specific item to help or hurt us, so the measure reads: “Any large city in the state but near the Gulf, beginning with the letter H and having a bayou called ‘Buffalo’ and at least one (1) symphony, ballet and/or a baseball team known as the “Astros” is hereby authorized to -” Just your generic bill.

Houston’s being micro-managed by the state legislators is not a power grab on their part. No, indeed. Representatives and senators from Palestine and Pampa have no desire to run our town. Many is the time I have heard some legislator from elsewhere in Texas moan, “Can’t you people solve your own problems down there? Why do I have to spend so much time sorting out Houston?” These are the same people who say, “How can you live in Houston with all that traffic and dirty air and – wait – my heart, there’s something wrong with my heart. Call LifeFlight! Get me to Houston! Oh, I do love that town. Greatest place -.”

In order to get these measures passed, or killed, the city sends lobbyists to Austin. They are very expensive, costing the city hundreds of thousands of dollars each session plus expenses. You cannot buy a Texas legislator, but there are some you can rent for the afternoon. Yet, at the same time, we are also paying our local lawmakers to look out for Houston and Harris County. We have by far the largest voting bloc in the capitol in both houses plus the new lite guv, David Dewhurst, who came from here. They should be protecting our interests.

Sometimes our city and county leaders simply want Austin to take the heat off their own handiwork. (Indeed, they make up a wish list before every session.) Example: The mayor, city council and the county commissioners lobbied the Legislature to create the Houston-Harris County Sports Authority and redirect some car rental and hotel occupancy taxes to build our major league playpens. When questioned about this, our leaders said, “We’ve got to spend that money on new sports facilities. It’s state law. We have no choice.” As a result, Houston, at 18 percent, has the highest hotel occupancy tax in the nation.

Even with all these busybodies running around, they aren’t doing a very good job, because Houston is bankrolling a lot of Texas. Last year, the state spent $2.7 billion to build new highways and maintain old ones. However, the Houston region, which makes up 21 percent of the state’s total population, will get only 13 percent of the highway money. Houstonians are paving a lot of roads out to that shepherd’s pasture.

What we need to do is to get a constitutional amendment that would fire our lobbyists and let us elect legislators who would do their job. Needless to say, this would only apply to “any Texas city with a road called the ‘West Loop’ and located near a space center.” Just your generic bill. ih

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