Parker blasts critics suing over Houston drainage fee vote
Mayor Annise Parker on Thursday criticized opponents of a recently passed $8 billion referendum to prevent flooding after they filed a lawsuit to halt the fee.
"If we believe the will of the voters, and we here certainly do, then I heard loud and clear that they want the city to rebuild Houston through this drainage fee proposal and they want the red light cameras to go away," Parker said.
Three opponents of the measure — Allen Mark Dacus, Elizabeth Perez and the Rev. Robert Jefferson - sued the city Wednesday, saying the language on the ballot misled voters and at least two procedural steps were not followed, making the charter amendment illegal.
"Proposition 1's ballot language did not adequately describe what the electorate was actually being asked to vote on," the lawsuit filed in state district court states.
The ballot measure was hotly contested in the months before November's election, with Parker supporting it and anti-tax activists led by Paul Bettencourt, Harris County's tax assessor from 1998 to 2008, arguing against it.
The language on the ballot did not give a rate of taxation or the amount of the tax, Bettencourt said.
"There is an absolute firm conviction that Prop 1 is just bad public policy," he said.
He also said public hearings based on published taxation rates should have been held.
$8 billion over 20 years
Parker said Bettencourt was "speaking out of both sides of his mouth" for challenging the result of Proposition 1 and supporting the result of Proposition 3, which banned the use of red light cameras in the city.
She accused him of "seeking to invalidate the will of the voters."
Voters rejected the cameras and narrowly supported a proposal to spend $8 billion over 20 years on infrastructure projects aimed at alleviating flooding that has plagued the city during heavy downpours. To pay for the street-building and drainage program, the referendum called for a drainage fee that raises $125 million annually and additional revenue from developer fees and property taxes.
Proponents originally estimated the fee would amount to about $5 a month if it is levied on every property owner in the city.
Although the ballot initiative passed, Parker still must get an ordinance implementing the measure through the City Council. Given the vocal opposition of several council members before the vote, that could be an uphill battle, especially as churches, schools and other trade associations unite in opposition to a drainage fee.
Parker has said that any fee will be applied to all property owners, including those exempt from property taxes.
Parker said she will lay out a "road map" for City Council Wednesday that will explain her plans for the drainage fee and other aspects of the proposed ordinance. The initiative mandates that the fee be in place by July 1.
Lawsuits focused on ballot language are not uncommon but rarely are successful, said Matthew Festa, a professor at South Texas College of Law.
"It's always a problem with ballots," Festa said of the imprecise language. "They're never going to say exactly the same thing that the actual law that's going to be passed says."
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