HISD has ordered up an election for May 6, in which they’ll ask you to go to the polls and decide whether you want our local school district to send money to the state in the form of a recapture payment.
Do you feel like you’re in an episode of the Twilight Zone? Feel like you’ve read this before? Well, just hang tight. We’ll get to that.
So on Saturday, May 6, you’ll go to the polls – well, about 4 percent of you will, if history teaches us anything. On the ballot, you’ll see Proposition 1 (because that’s the only thing on the ballot for us).
If you vote for this proposition, then you’re giving HISD permission to cut a $77 million check to the state of Texas. That money will then be redistributed to less fortunate school districts.
If you vote against this proposition, you’re telling HISD not to write a check, at which point the state then comes and annexes some of our biggest buildings into poorer school districts so those districts receive the tax dollars.
It’s kind of like the option of cutting off your left middle finger or your right middle finger – both are going to hurt. This is Robin Hood at its best, which happens to be what the law is called in the basement of the state Capitol.
Here’s the easy explanation: We pay property taxes to fund education, but when our property values increase (as they have) that doesn’t mean we get more money for each student in Houston. No, the smart people over in Austin decide how much money each student is allocated.
Let’s use simple math: There are 100 students in HISD (yeah, in one classroom) and the state allocates $100 for every student. If the tax collector collects $10,000, we’re all square. If the tax collector brings in $9,000, we would receive recapture payments from wealthier school districts to fund our students. And if the tax man collects $11,000, we have to send $1,000 to the state so they can send it to another school district that doesn’t have $100 for each student.
I’m glad this is confusing, because that’s what happens when you start redistributing wealth, which is exactly what we do in our education system. A school in the Valley gets as much money for each student as a school in Houston, and if the numbers don’t equal out, then we start shipping money around until everyone is happy.
Houston has never shipped money anywhere – until now. We have become a property tax-rich city.
Now, let’s get back to this Twilight Zone conundrum. You’ve heard all of this before, right? Of course you have. Remember that election in November (and how could you forget?) just four months ago? Right smack dab at the end of that ballot was Proposition 1, asking voters to decide if HISD should send a recapture payment to the state. If you voted “for,” you wanted us to pay our bill. If you voted “against,” you wanted HISD to give that displaced middle finger to the state and dare them to come annex some of our biggest and best properties. And to put an image with that, some of the properties the state would have taken, and never given back, were the Galleria, Greenway Plaza, and chunks of downtown.
They wouldn’t actually have sent moving vans and shipped Nordstrom to Aldine, but all the taxes that the Galleria owners pay on the property would have gone to Aldine rather than to Houston. And as the law says, once you lose those buildings, you don’t get them back.
Here’s what’s humorous: Back in November, folks like Mayor Sylvester Turner waged a campaign to vote “against” sending recapture. Turner dared legislators to come take the taxes from those buildings (which would have been higher than they pay now).
Turner’s plan worked. Instead of taking $162 million from HISD, the Texas Legislature has increased the allocation for each student, and now HISD only has to send $77 million. I didn’t support his approach, but I also didn’t spend more than two decades in the Texas Legislature.
There’s one problem, though: We have to go vote to change the decision voters made back in November. If people don’t turn out to vote on May 6, and we don’t all collectively flip from being “against” the payments to “for” the payments, some of our favorite buildings will be annexed to Aldine ISD (nothing against our neighbors).
And therein lies the biggest problem. HISD now must pay the District Clerk’s office $800,000 to put on this election. If history is our guide, that’s one expensive election for the number of people who will actually vote.
The only election in May that is comparable was held in 2004, when Houston voters were asked to vote on a yes-no proposition (I can’t even find what was on that ballot). In that election, with a city population of 2.06 million, a total of 85,929 people went to the polls.
Today, the city of Houston – not the entire metro area – has 2.1 million people, which means the population boom has happened in the burbs. So if our population has increased 2 percent, that means we can expect about 87,647 people to vote on May 6. In other words, it’s going to cost HISD $9.13 for every vote.
I’d suggest they spend a little extra money and develop a marketing campaign to push voters to the polls. Either that, or they could just tell people we’re doing the whole November election thing over. I bet that would get a few people to the polls.