Texpatriate endorses Astrodome Referendum

This board has long been dubious of bond measures put up before the voters with little-to-no explanation. These measures are often confounded in confusing, opaque language. The end result, unfortunately, is giving a blank check to the government to spend money on poorly-defined goals for poorly-defined reasons.

The recent plan to renovate the Astrodome is not one of these situations, however. After many years of continued limbo for the hallowed structure, this board has been pleased to finally see a meticulously detailed proposal come together. This proposal will convert the Astrodome into a multipurpose convention center, on par with the George R. Brown. The proponents of this measure have also been unrelenting in advocating for their position, raising awareness throughout the County for the important measure. We have been especially elated to hear that, already, major conferences and organizations have come together to pledge their intent to hold conferences at the Astrodome.

While an eventual demise is simply part of the lifespan for many sports arenas, this board believes the Astrodome is different. While Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium hold the secrets and traditions of their respective ballteams, the Astrodome has never been about the Astros. Instead, it has been about the structure itself, the first of its kind in the world. The Astrodome set the stage for a future of ubiquitous indoor or retractable-roof stadiums throughout the South. Never again would sports fans in Houston be required to suffer through a scalding summer in an outdoor stadium.

While this board believes even a meager property tax increase will be painful and excessive for many residents of Harris County, we could not think of many better investments than the Astrodome referendum. The roughly $200 Million spent by the county will be made up many times over as the economy of Houston is benefited from conferences held at this new center.

Accordingly, this board endorses the Harris County Proposition colloquially known as the “Astrodome rerendum.”

The Texpatriate Editorial Board is comprised of Olivia Arena of Austin, George Bailey & Noah M. Horwitz of Boston and Andrew Scott Romo of New Orleans.

Poll supports Astrodome bond

Yesterday, KHOU released a poll on the Mayoral election. Tonight, it has released a second poll, specifically pertaining to the Astrodome bond referendum.

Any many will recall, all the voters of Harris County will see a $217 Bond measure on the ballot this November, that will seek to convert the Astrodome into a convention center. The ballot measure already has some somewhat zealous opponents, mainly hailing from the Tea Party (and others with a pathological hatred of the government). However, a broad coalition of supporters have emerged as well.

The poll showed 45% in favor of passing the bond measure, 35% oppose and 20% undecided. As the lead spokesperson for the Save-the-Dome PAC, Dene Hofheinz, mentioned, that this only means 1/4 currently undecided voters need to be convinced, somewhat good odds.

The poll’s full demographic results have yet to be released, though. KHOU notes that, unlike previous polls and snapshots on the matter, younger people were more open to the idea than older voters. The stark differences that do remain, however, are that Whites & Hispanics are far more supportive than African-Americans and that those optimistic about the city’s future are more supportive than those pessimistic. I cannot speak in any more than those generalities, as I do not have the detailed information.

The poll is a welcomed development for me. I have long been a tad bit suspicious of the referendum as something that was doomed to fail, thus ushering in the demise of the eighth wonder of the world. This, however, gives me a slight amount of hope.

Save the Dome!

The Houston Chronicle reports that a Political Action Committee (PAC) has been formed to fight to save the Astrodome, pending a ballot measure on the November ballot. Not too long ago, the Commissioners Court approved placing the $217M bond issue this November, concurrent with the municipal elections and Statewide ballot measures.

The PAC is receiving endorsements from an all-star cast that includes current officers such as County Judge Ed Emmett and County Commissioner El Franco Lee, as well as former County Judges Jon Lindsay and Robert Eckels. Dene Hofheinz, daughter of former Mayor Roy Hofheinz and sister of former Mayor Fred Hofheinz, also made statements in support of the group.

The article in the Chronicle mentions the Offshore Technology Conference, which has historically met at the George R. Brown convention center Reliant stadium. The group now pledges that they would host the conference at the Astrodome, giving some business and economic opportunity to the project.

The article also mentions other opportunities for an Astrodome Convention Center, including the possibility of a political convention. The astute will remember that the 1992 Republican Convention was held at the Astrodome, so the idea is not truly unprecedented.

This group is giving a small bit of backing to the idea that Emmett & Co actually want the Astrodome to be saved.

Constitutional Amendment

The Texas Tribune reported a long time ago on the Constitutional Amendments that will be going before voters this November, concurrent with Houston’s municipal elections. There will be nine propositions, all based on joint resolutions passed by 2/3 of each house of the State Legislature. Quickly, I’m going to run through all of these amendments.

First up is HJR62, now known as Proposition 1. This prop would authorize the Legislature to create property tax exemptions for military spouses, specifically military widow(er)s.

Next, HJR79, now known as Proposition 2. This prop would clean up part of the constitution by deleting references to the State Medical Education Board and the State Medical Education Fund, both of which have been defunct for many years.

HJR133 will now be known as Proposition 3. This prop would give some tax relief to those storing airplane parts and aerospace manufacturers. Unlike the previous two props, this ballot measure’s devil is in the details. It will not be an easy yes for me, or, I suspect, anyone else in this State.

Following this will be HJR24, now known as Proposition 4. This prop will authorize the Legislature to create property tax exemptions to the homes of disabled veterans or their widow(er)s, if the home was supplied by charity.

Next, SJR18, now known as Proposition 5. The prop, according to the Tribune, “would allow homeowners age 62 or older to use reverse mortgages to purchase residences. The current law only expressly allows traditional mortgages, which lets such homeowners borrow against the equity of their homes. The amendment would allow the prospective borrower to use a Federal Housing Administration-insured home equity conversion mortgage to help buy a new home.” I’m not so sure about how a reverse mortgage would be used to purchase a home, though. I will have to do more research on this one.

Then, of course, there is SJR1, also known as the “Water funding prop,” and Proposition 6. The prop would withdraw about $2Billion from the Rainy Day Fund to help underwrite massive projects ensuring the integrity of this State’s water system for years to come.

HJR87 will appear on the ballot as Proposition 7. The prop will allow municipalities to opt-out of mandatory special elections involving vacancies in City Councils under some conditions. First, the vacancy must be with less than one year remaining the term. Second, the vacancy must involve a City Council with more than a two-year term. Accordingly, Houston will not be affected.

HJR147, now known as Proposition 8, will be another cleanup provision. This prop will remove language about an obsolete hospital district in Hidalgo County.

Finally, SJR42, now known as Proposition 9. This prop expands the options of punishment at the disposal of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct for punishing misbehaving jurists. This will definitely help in Galveston, for sure.

The editorial board will be offering endorsements on all of these props, along with the Astrodome referendum.

Off the Kuff & Dos Centavos have more.

Astrodome referendum

The Houston Chronicle reports that the Commissioners’ Court has approved a bond issue, to be placed on the November ballot, to convert the Astrodome into a convention center and exhibition hall. As some may recall, the Commissioners tentatively hammered out this plan back in June. The price tag on this, $217 Million, will be placed before voters concurring with the Municipal and Constitutional amendment election. From the (extremely short) Chronicle piece by Kiah Collier:

“A $217 million bond authorization that would pay to turn the iconic Astrodome into a convention and exhibit hall is officially headed to Harris County voters.

Harris County Commissioners Court on Tuesday ordered a November bond election for the renovation, and also approved $8 million for asbestos abatement, selective demolition and other work county staff says needs to be done on the vacant stadium whether it is revamped or torn down.

That includes allowing the county purchasing agent to inventory and sell Dome-related “sports memorabilia,” including signs.

If the referendum passes and the county chooses to issue the entire bond amount, county budget staff have said it would increase the average property tax bill by $8 a year.

That’s for a home valued at $200,000, minus a $40,000 homestead exemption.”

I have a few things to say about this. First, for all of these property tax messes, the true devil is always in the details. From what I recall about property tax messes, just because the $200k house gets a $8 hike doesn’t necessarily mean the $500k house gets only a $20k hike. But that is a somewhat complicated issue I’ll get to a little bit later.

The biggest issue I thought of immediately was how this would affect the Constitutional Amendment election coinciding with the Municipal elections this November. Although there are close to a dozen actual ballot measure, far and away the most important is the “Water measure,” asking voters to earmark very large sums of money ($2B) to guarantee the continued water security of the State. In fact, it is such a large sum of money that the powers-to-be in this State specifically moved the Transportation funding referendum to 2014 because they were afraid of the two referendums coinciding.

All of that has now been lost with the Astrodome measure on the November ballot. Now, I suppose there is something to be said about its County vs State money, so voters would not feel so guilty spending all the money. However, it rarely works as clear as that to the average voter.

Further, if this were simply a General Election, a divergent voting pattern out of Harris County would not be all that bad. However, in odd-year elections like this Houston stands alone as the only large municipality with concurrent elections. Accordingly, the may doom the Astrodome deal, Water deal or both.

Budgets, domes and energy

First up, today was a big day for the City. The 2013/2014 Budget was approved by the Houston City Council in an unanimous vote. Dos Centavos has a very detailed, quality piece on the process and the outcome, so I suggest consulting it if you want to see exactly what happened and come about from it. I want to –just briefly– discuss some of the political ramifications thereof. Helena Brown, nor Andrew Burks, voted against the measure, which means they are tied to it. They can’t run against the institution in their re-election bids, though I suppose they still could, it would just make them a hypocrite (like that doesn’t happen in politics).

Second, the Houston Chronicle reports that the Harris County Sports & Convention Corporation has announced they will not be following any of the 19 proposals submitted by the public for dealing with the Astrodome. Instead, they will be going their own way. The board advocated turning the Astrodome into a new convention and event center. They estimated it would cost nearly $200 Million and would be ready by the start of 2016.

The proposal will be confirmed or rejected at a Harris County Commissioners meeting on June 25th (next Tuesday). However, passage looks somewhat likely, as County Judge Ed Emmett was an enthusiastic supporter of the idea. The “perfect solution,” he told the Chronicle. Brains & Eggs has the full story, as does Off the Kuff.

Third, from a Press Release on the City Hall website, the City of Houston has signed a contract with Reliant to purchase 50% of the City’s electricity from renewable, green sources. These include both wind and solar power. The Mayor, in announcing this policy, stated “Houston is already known as the energy capital of the world, but we are committed to becoming the alternative energy capital of the world as well.” This only applies to electricity used by the municipal government, but it will make Houston the “largest municipal purchaser in the nation.”