I was able to attend a Ben Hall press conference yesterday about his plan for economic development in the City of Houston. As with any well planned press conference, this one included a local interest story about the Power House Gym in Southeast Houston. Luis Torres’ story is a powerful one that should resonate with working class neighborhoods across the city. But before we get to that, here are Hall’s specific ideas to help Houston grow:
- Reduce property taxes by 2 cents in the first year to be followed by an annual property tax reevaluation with consideration towards growing jobs and businesses inside the city.
- Establish a proactive Office of New Economic Development and Growth with a focus on both domestic and international markets that will aggressively seek out and recruit new businesses to come into Houston
- Streamline regulatory and permitting procedures to more quickly process licenses and permits and to reduce current fees and permit costs.
- Replace the present undisciplined Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) policies with an economic development policy that prioritizes investment and growth in the 65% of the City that has been characterized as unsustainable.
- Overhaul the City’s IT policies and practices to decentralize the permitting and licensing functions of the City and permit easier access to city resources online and at community facilities.
The first one, reducing property tax rates, is important because the city increased taxes on residents by 10.5% this year when the Houston City Council, at Mayor Parker’s urging, adopted last year’s tax rate. This is a classic example of “appraisal creep”, one of the issues that Sen. Dan Patrick is championing during his run for Lt. Gov. Politicians are allowed under current law to claim that they have not raised taxes if they do not raise the tax rate. In reality, more revenue is taken from citizens, which equals more taxes, which equals raising taxes. Ben Hall apparently recognizes this and is proposing to reduce the tax rate to offset at least a portion of the tax hike that Mayor Parker is foisting on citizens.
The other one that interested me was Hall’s proposal to replace TIRZ’s. Wow, that is going to send big money straight to Mayor Parker. TIRZ’s are like a cancer that is destroying lower income neighborhoods in order to build up high end retail areas such as the Galleria. As Hall stated in his press conference, TIRZ’s are simply not doing what they were designed to do, which was to encourage development in economically disadvantaged areas. Instead, money is being diverted from general revenue coffers and building parks and sidewalks in the Galleria and Bellaire, amongst other areas.
I have no idea how this election is going to turn out but I think that Hall’s plan is a good start towards helping the City of Houston out of its stagnant economy. When we talk about Houston “booming”, we are primarily talking about the surrounding areas, not the city proper.
I liked the local interest angle on this one. Luis Torres came in to a blighted neighborhood, opened up a small business, took the initiative to clean up the area because the City of Houston refused to, and has not only helped his bottom line but helped the neighborhood as well. Here are a few clips from the press conference but the reality is that you need to go and visit his gym to see the real impact that one person can have in changing their neighborhood.
If you drive around the city as much as I do, you know full well that poor areas are neglected and more prosperous areas receive the bulk of city services. It is a risky proposition that Hall is proposing here, especially if he makes it to a runoff. Those with money will pour it into Mayor Parker’s campaign knowing that she will continue to reward them. Mayor Parker’s wealthy white liberal supporters and “smart growth” proponents have zero idea of what it is like to live in the neglected neighborhoods of Houston.
Po’ folks don’t have a lot of influence, ya know? Here’s to hoping Hall can pull off a miracle and be a mayor for the working class as well as those folks that are a bit more well to do. Hall for all, right?
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