(Harris County OKs bailout plan for stadiums, Chris Moran, ChronBlog)
Commissioners Court approved on Tuesday* the transfer of $2 million in county money to the Harris County Sports & Convention Corporation, the county-created entity that runs Reliant Park. Along with a transfer approved in the spring, it means the county is covering $4 million in sports stadium debt payments this year.
Stadium boosters promised that no property tax money would be spent to build the professional football, baseball and basketball venues. County Judge Ed Emmett and Edwin Harrison, the county's financial services director (interviewed before his indictment on non-job-related charges this week), were quick to say that promise has been kept. The county is transferring hotel room tax revenue to the Sports & Convention Corporation.
Neither Emmett nor Harrison could categorically deny the possibility that lost hotel tax revenue would be backfilled from other sources, including property taxes.
Passed on Tuesday, reported on at 10PM on Friday NIGHT?
Not only is the money being diverted from other uses, but it appears that the same problem is going to be with us for the next four years. Moran's story (go read the whole thing) does a pretty good job explaining how the tumblers fell that triggered this mess, except that he (and pretty much every other stadium booster) never address the fact that the entire stadium bond mess was funded on a house of cards that wasn't designed to handle even basic financial stress, much less an economic melt-down.
The result is a huge financial mess that's going to further stretch an already tight County budget and force Commissioners to eventually have to consider property tax hikes. In the middle of all this there's a deal for the Sports Authority to expand their operations to include overseeing the construction & operations of the new Dynamo stadium. Does that sound smart?
What's happening now is that the fare is coming due for the wild cab ride taken by Houston (and Harris County) over the last decade and they're looking to take the money from the taxpayers who have received little, if any, economic benefit from stadium construction. The cupboard is truly bare.
Who will have to answer for this? Given the state of Houston's establishment media (who led the cheering section for these poorly designed deals) doesn't have any interest in providing Harris County citizens with a watchdog voice, and local pols are tied into the power players and rely on many of them for campaign finances, my guess is that no one will ever have to provide an answer.
Harris County taxpayers were oversold on stadiums with overstated revenue projections and understated costs. The risks and potential prat-falls were downplayed by news organizations who spent most of their time vilifying stadium opponents instead of taking a good solid look at both sides of the issue.
In their rush for "World Classiness" the Houston establishment forgot one key thing:
Going broke is most certainly NOT World Class.
It certainly seems to be the norm for a City whose leaders listened too closely to the whispers of outsiders who (falsely) claimed that Houston didn't have enough going for it and should try to emulate the now-failing cities in the North East.
They listened and now Houston has stadiums it cannot afford, a transit system that is going broke and is failing at it's core mission of moving people, a public pension system house-of-cards with a shaky foundation and a development system that favors special interest groups over the public interest.