Whitmire’s SB 884 Seeks to Ensure Taxpayers Have Voice on Spending
AUSTIN– Houston is a diverse city, but nothing is more divisive than the priorities of wants and needs of leaders versus the community.
Harris County Judge Ed Emmett and county commissioners are hell-bent on saving the Astrodome starting with at $105 million-plus redevelopment project, while Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner has made it clear that Houstonians and Harris County needs to spend millions to solve its flooding problems, deal with homelessness issue and ensure all communities are provided equitable and affordable housing, modern schools, access to services, shopping and grocery stores and solid job and employment bases in surrounding disadvantaged neighborhoods.
It’s about setting proper priorities.
Who should have the greatest say in how tax dollars are spent in the city and Harris County?
Democratic State Sen. John Whitmire, a group of state senators from the Bayou City, and supported by Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick say the people should.
The group is united that the people’s voice is important and needs comes first and have filed Senate Bill 884 to pump the brakes on spending millions of tax dollars to foot the bill to fix, repair or preserve sports venues like the Astrodome.
Senate Bill 884
SB 884, known as the “Harris County Taxpayer Protection Act,” applies to a county with a populations of 3.3 million or more.
“I have to represent my constituents and as a Harris County taxpayer, I say go back and get voter approval and honor previous selections before you engage in such an endeavor,” Whitmire said at a press conference. “I am joined by my colleagues – a very diverse group of Harris County senators to emphasize the importance of this matter.”
Under the bill, a county may not fund, in whole or in part, the improvement or redevelopment of a sports facility that, as of the effective date of the act, is more that 50 years old with county revenue. It also includes revenue generated from property taxes, hotel occupancy taxes, fees or fines, or county debt if the improvements or redevelopment will cost $10 million or more, unless that funding is approved by the voters of the county at an election held for that purpose.
Joining Whitmire is support of the bill are State Senators Paul Bettencourt, Sylvia Garcia, Lois Kolkhorst, and Borris Miles.
County Judge Emmett was not available for comment or reaction to Senate Bill 884.
“I love the Astrodome because it is part of history and one of our treasures,” Garcia said. “I support finding financing to keep it alive. This is not the way to get there.”
Bettencourt believes that taxpayer dollars are best spent improving flood protection and other needed public service improvements and projects.
All that rich history and nostalgia surrounding the Astrodome has Houstonians in a quandary about how to balance the cost of saving the structure with the current needs facing Houston and Harris County.
Billed as “The Eighth Wonder of the World” by Judge Roy Hofheinz, the 70,000-seat Astrodome, debuted in 1965 as the world’s first domed stadium. This iconic stricter served as an important sports and performance facility in Harris County for nearly forty years.
It served as home to the Houston Astros of Major League Baseball (MLB) from its opening in 1965 until 1999. It was also home to the former Houston Oilers of the National Football League (NFL) from 1968 until 1996, and also the part-time home of the Houston Rockets of the (NBA) from 1971 until 1975. Additionally, the Astrodome was the primary venue of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo from 1966 until 2002.
In 2005, it was used as a shelter for residents of New Orleans affected by Hurricane Katrina.
Whitmire estimates that the cost of the Astrodome redevelopment project could reach as high as $200 million – one of the main reasons he is fighting to allow the people to decide.
“It is the people’s money and they should decide,” Whitmire added. “Their vote does count and it is right to let them speak on this.”
Whitmire said he had concerns about taxpayer dollars going toward redevelopments at the Dome. He is calling not only for debate, but also for Harris County residents to be able to vote on the measure in November.
Just recently, county voters rejected a $217 million bond proposal that would have paid for massive renovations to the Dome and now the commission wants to move ahead without taxpayer approval on a $105 million project that includes raising the ground level two floors so that about 1,400 parking spaces could be installed in the Astrodome.
The People Must Have a Say
Lt. Gov. Patrick, who is a Houston Republican, and stood with Whitmire, a Democrat, is in full solidarity that the will of the people and the taxpayer must never by neglected.
“It is important that when local voters vote to honor that vote,” he said. “You have heard of low voter turnouts in Texas. Maybe it happens when voters feel they are ignored.”
If approved, voters may have their say on the issue by next November.