Sylvester Turner will deliver his “State of the City” annual address today. If today’s speech is like the others, he will mostly brag and take credit for a lot of goods things going on in our City that he has little or nothing to do with. He will not talk about the dysfunction of our municipal government. Here are just a few things that I am willing to bet do not make the speech.
Violent crime is up since Turner was elected. According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, in 2015, the year before Turner took office, 21,994 violent crimes were reported in the City. In 2017, the last year for which we have official numbers from the DPS, 25,608 violent crimes were committed, a 16.4% increase. In the first years of his administration, rape was up a staggering 39%.
Turner has released unofficial numbers for 2018 claiming that violent crime had decreased by 10% but none of the detailed data has been released. Until those numbers are verified by DPS, color me skeptical. But even if true, violent crime is still up by 6% while declining in most of the rest of the country.
HPD personnel has been cut by more than 300 positions since Turner was elected. According to the quarterly personnel headcounts issue by the City, HPD’s total personnel was 6,640 as of December, 2015. Of that number, 5,293 were police officers. According to the City’s March, 2019 report the total HPD headcount was 6,326 with 5,220 police officers, decreases of 314 and 73, respectively. Turner has not kept his promise to voters to add 800 more police officers to the force.
The City’s revenue is up by $480 million since Turner was elected. According to the City’s auditors, total revenue in 2015 was $4.6 billion. For 2018 it was $5.1 billion, an increase of $480 million. Normally you would expect that strong revenue growth would be something about which an entity’s “CEO” would want to brag. But highlighting that City revenue is growing by a compounded annual rate of over 3% would undermine Turner’s claim that the City is hobbled by the “revenue” cap.
Of course, the City does not have a revenue cap, it has a limit on how much City Council and the mayor can raise property taxes each year without checking in with the taxpayers. That limit is a formula, but normally works out to about 3-4% per year. TIRZ property taxes, which have been skyrocketing, are not even subject to the limitation. But, most importantly, property taxes make up only about 25% of the City’s revenues. There is no limitation on the other 75%.
The City’s operating deficit last year was the largest in its history. Notwithstanding record revenues, the City ran an operating deficit in its General Fund last year of $435 million, the largest in the City’s history. The average of Turner’s deficits is about double those during the White and Parker administrations. Below is a chart of the change in net assets since 2002. I have adjusted 2017 to back out the one-time increase from cutting pension benefits previously accrued.
The Turner administration has cut spending on streets. There is one thing on which just about every Houstonian agrees. Our streets are a disaster. The streets were a major issue in the 2015 election and Turner promised to fix all the potholes within 24 hours. What a joke. Instead the Turner administration has cut spending on streets by 29% and is filling less than half the potholes the Parker administration did in its last year.
The pay-to-play corruption at City Hall is out of control. Every day new stories are coming out about the connection between campaign contributions and the Turner administration. The most stunning was the recent discovery that he had accepted contributions from the Sweet 16 strip clubs. Just to show what a corrosive effect such contributions have, Turner actually said the strip clubs had joined him in the fight against human trafficking to attempt to justify taking the contributions. What Turner should do today is to endorse the End Pay-to-Play petition drive that will take place June 9 – July 8 to amend our campaign finance ordinance. I am guessing that will not happen.
The City has done virtually nothing to protect against the next major flood. As evidenced by the recent flooding in Kingwood, the City is still asleep at the wheel on flooding. The Turner administration continues to permit projects that exacerbate flooding, has done nothing to increase detention and continues to only spend about half the drainage fee it collects on drainage projects. The City did increase building levels to the 500-year flood plain, plus two feet. But implementation of that ordinance, which will do nothing to protect existing homes, has become a nightmare. It has subjected thousands of unsuspecting property owners to unnecessary regulation and further gentrifying historically minority neighborhoods.
I could go on and discuss garbage sitting street side for weeks, recycling being dumped in landfills, the rise in homeless and vagrancy, etc., but I am sure you get the point. Next year, you will hear a different kind of state of the city address from me. It will not be a rah-rah, everything is rainbows and unicorns. It will be an honest, data-driven discussion of the issues our great City is facing and how to address them.
If that is the kind of state of the City you would like see, join my campaign. Let’s clean up City Hall and get back to the basics.
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