Houston Mayor and City Council sued for violating Prop A in 2020 budget

A lawsuit filed in Houston District Court names Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and members of the Houston City Council as defendants for violating the funding provisions of Proposition A, passed overwhelmingly by Houston voters in November 2018. Proposition A created an amendment to the City Charter to establish a Dedicated Drainage and Street Renewal Fund (“DDSRF”) and devote all revenue from 11.8 cents of city ad valorem tax revenue – after payment of existing drainage and street bond payments – to that fund.

“Houstonians spoke loud and clear just one year ago when they voted to create a fund to fix our streets and drainage,” said plaintiff Bob Jones, an engineer, concerned citizen and supporter of Proposition A. “The budget recently passed by the City of Houston ignores the will of the people and violates the law by diverting tax dollars dedicated to streets and drainage to other purposes. We are undertaking this suit to ensure that the law is upheld, that the promised funding is protected so that our street and drainage infrastructure receives the investment necessary to repair, replace and upgrade our street and drainage systems throughout the city over the next 20-30 years.”

Proposition A Lawsuit Background

In 2010, ReNew Houston, a group of concerned citizens and engineers, gathered petitions to get Proposition 1 on the ballot, a charter amendment to create the infrastructure fund and its funding mechanism.  The amendment passed by a narrow margin and was challenged in court by a group that argued the ballot language did not properly represent the intentions of the petition to voters.  

The courts agreed with the challengers, directing the city to hold a new election on the original petition. 

The November 2018 Proposition A election is the official vote on the 2010 petition which modifies the city charter to provide for a Pay-As-You-Go funding program with the DDSRF lock box that includes all revenue from 11.8 cents of city ad valorem tax revenue after payment of existing drainage and street bond payments.

City of Houston 2020 Budget

The city recently adopted its 2020 budget and set its 2019 ad valorem tax rate, the first actions by the Mayor and Houston City Council following the approval of the Proposition A charter amendment in 2018. The budget appears to ignore the 2018 election and refers to the 2010 election, which was held invalid by the courts, to establish its budget requirements. (City of Houston Fiscal Year 2020 Budget, Page XIV-3). If the current illegal fund diversion continues over the next 10 years, the total funding loss to the DDRSF can be expected to exceed $500,000,000.  

The suit seeks to force the city to apply the unambiguous language of the charter amendment and fully fund the DDSRF, now and in the future. 

“According to the 2020 budget, the City is short-changing the Dedicated Drainage and Street Renewal Fund by nearly half,” said Allen Watson, one of the plaintiffs in the suit, a Houston engineer and member of the original ReNew Houston effort in 2010. “We are confident the court will uphold the will of the people and direct the City not to engage in budget shenanigans like this in the future. This DDRSF should receive every penny mandated by law.” 

“The Mayor and the City Council Members are violating the terms of the Houston City Charter,” said Alan Waldrop, the attorney representing the plaintiffs. “The voters of the City of Houston overwhelmingly approved Proposition A on November 6, 2018, with over 74 percent ‘Yes’ votes, but contrary to this mandate, the will of the citizens of the City of Houston is being diluted by City leaders through manipulations of funds that should be going to the Dedicated Drainage and Street Renewal Fund.”