Mayoral candidate Bill King believes in fixing the streets, catching the crooks and balancing the budget.
Photo courtesy of 2015 Bill King for Mayor
Mayoral candidate Bill King has a “back to basics” theme that emphasizes three points. Fix the streets. Catch the crooks. Balance the budget.
These are the points he outlined when addressing the mostly college student audience in the Lone Star College-Kingwood October 14 mayoral forum. The forum was organized by Dr. John Theis, professor of government and director for civic engagement and the Lake Houston Area Chamber of Commerce.
King described Houston as a place “where I think we can do anything.” He grew up in the Clear Lake area in the 1960s when NASA was working on putting a man on the moon and credits growing up in that era for his belief that anything is possible. He described Houston as a city that dreams big and makes seemingly impossible projects possible, such as manned space flight, innovative heart surgery, and building of the ship channel.
A lifelong resident of the Houston area, King grew up the son of a union pipefitter and worked his way through the University of Houston, earning both his bachelor's degree and law degree, becoming the first in his family to graduate from college. King has practiced law and run businesses in Houston, co-chaired the HISD bond campaign to rebuild its dilapidated high schools throughout the city, and helped revamp the region's hurricane preparedness plans. More recently, as a columnist for the Houston Chronicle, and now as a candidate for mayor, King has earned a reputation as an outspoken advocate for balancing the city budget.
King’s first point was about the crumbling infrastructure of the city. The ReBuild Houston program (a.k.a. Rain Tax), was supposed to alleviate the infrastructure issues. A substantial tax was levied on property owners, but after five years, many essential projects have failed to materialize. The concept of having a dedicated revenue stream for infrastructure was a good one, but proponents of the plan misled voters, and the plan as implemented has wasted millions of dollars. King favors elimination of the Rain Tax and replacing it with a bond issue, which was used to build Houston’s infrastructure for 180 years before we embarked on this costly Rain Tax experiment. King explained that a bond issue has another significant advantage because it would allow the voters of Houston to have a voice in the city’s priorities. King said that he hoped Houston did not go the way of cities like Detroit, which has experienced increased crime and a crumbling infrastructure, with a resulting drop in population from 2 million to 600,000 over more than 50 years. Houston has 9,000 abandoned homes that need to be torn down, but only 300 per year are actually cleaned up.
King continued by discussing the city’s public safety, and stated that in 2006, Houstonians voted to dedicate $90 million of the city budget toward public safety, yet today we have 300 fewer police officers than we did 10 years ago. He stated that there is a burglary every 15 minutes and that HPD only solves about six percent of all burglaries. For these reasons, Houston is unfortunately becoming known as the robbery capitol of the U.S. Rapes and murders have also increased. King is a proponent of a top-to-bottom assessment of an HPD that he describes as a bloated department with antiquated practices, and is committed to putting more officers on the streets if elected mayor. He also talked about streamlining resources by combining city and county facilities, such as crime labs, where appropriate.
King concluded the presentation by calling for the need to balance the budget, the result of which would address many of the city’s current woes. He expressed frustration that the current mayor created a budget less than 60 days ago, and despite the projected $126 million shortfall, still added 775 new people to the payroll. King stands for common sense budgeting and prioritized spending. He explained that pension reform is key to balancing the budget. Houston has an unsustainable financial model regarding pensions. Bad financial assumptions regarding projected earnings, as well as terrible management decisions have been made in the past and must be corrected going forward.
King said, “The current situation is politically driven and has nothing to do with financial reality. The city is projected to have a $4B shortfall in the pension fund.” He explained that benefits are unreasonably high for some workers, yet are woefully low for other workers who are in much more dangerous jobs. King does not support taking away pension benefits that have already been promised to and earned by city employees.
“A deal is a deal,” said King, “but that going forward we simply must stop digging the hole deeper and fix the problem by implementing real pension reform for all new city employees.”
“These decisions are not complicated, but they’re hard because so many past decisions have been made to provide political advantage to one group or one area of Houston. The Tax Incremental Reassessment Zones (TIRZ) are a prime example: excess tax revenue is supposed to fund depressed areas, but many of the 25 TIRZ zones are no longer in depressed areas, yet continue to be funded to favor political advantage. Recapture of those funds could immediately net in excess of $100 million, said King, a strong proponent of giving control back to the super neighborhoods of Houston. Super neighborhoods are geographically designated areas where residents, civic organizations, institutions and businesses work together to identify, plan and set priorities to address the needs and concerns of their communities. King stressed that super neighborhoods needed to realize their voting power, and cited Kingwood as an example: the last mayor won the race by only 180,000 votes, and there are 40,000 registered voters in Kingwood, but only 6,000 actually voted in the last mayoral election. If everyone voted, Kingwood could make a real difference in the upcoming election.
In closing, King stated that he wanted to buck the current trend of focusing on “fringe issues” and instead focus on big, common sense issues such as finishing the bayou parks building project and making the Texas Medical Center the next “Silicon Valley Biotech area” of the United States. The city has collected over $1B more in taxes and fees, yet is still $3.3 billion in debt.
“After years of paying more and getting less, Houstonians deserve bold new leadership. Together, let’s get our city back to basics,” said King.