The court battle might prove interesting. Normally, the courts would reject a taxpayer challenge to a vote based on lack of standing but in this case, the City of Houston may have unknowingly opened the door to a challenge. As we know, the City filed a lawsuit against American Traffic Solutions after the voters rejected red-light cameras in November. By doing so, ATS was able to challenge the outcome of the election in court. The theory of the Prop 1 opponents is that by filing the lawsuit in regards to the red-light cameras, thus allowing a third party to have standing, the City was trying to overturn the outcome of an election it didn’t like – the Prop 1 opponents would like the same opportunity. Should be interesting to see if they can make that argument.
The third front is city council, which could be the most promising. Mayor Parker has not had an easy time of it lately and her administration is looking more and more like that of former Mayor Lee P. Brown. Which is to say, incompetent. Unless Mayor Parker brings in someone with political skills, it is quite likely that the council will revolt and exclude churches and non-profits on their own. If that happens, homeowners and businesses will be faced with steep “fees” shortly before the next Mayoral election in November. Will Mayor Parker run the political risk that would entail? She’s certainly shown a stubborn streak but can she accept being a one-term mayor?
Speaking about the city council, it is rumored that C.O. Bradford is lining up supporters for a potential run against Mayor Parker. It just so happens that the Wall Street Journal has a quote from him on Prop 1:
We as a society have said we are not going to tax places of worship,” says C.O. Bradford, a Houston councilman.
“This is different from paying for other utilities,” he said. “If they stop paying their bills, we can turn off their water or electricity. But we can’t stop the rain from falling out of the sky.
Nicely played, Councilmember Bradford. Notice that he went straight to the “not going to tax places of worship” card, which will play very well with voters. I realize that Mayor Parker’s base doesn’t care much about churches but what about places like Bering Omega that treats AIDS patients? Or all of the non-profits in the Texas Medical Center that will be forced to move resources away from patient care?
Prop 1 was a poorly designed tax and I think that eventually it will crack on one or more of these fronts and then the entire house of cards will fall.
For a practical example of what will happen if it doesn’t, I’m going to quote in full a note from Leif Olson. Leif wrote this on Facebook:
Earlier in my feed, I posted a link to a Houston Chronicle story about Mayor Annise Parker’s callous disregard of the human cost of the recently enacted Proposition 1, which will impose a fee on nearly every landowning entity in Houston, including nonprofits like my church, Trinity Lutheran Church. In that story, Parker states, “I have yet to talk to any entity where there is any evidence that (the ordinance) will financially cripple that institution.” I suppose it depends on what she means by “cripple.”
Trinity’s governing board estimates that Proposition 1 will cost the church more than $100,000 per year. Will we be “crippled”? Well, we won’t have to declare bankruptcy and liquidate, if that’s what Parker means. We will, however, have to cut more than $100,000 out of an already-lean budget, a challenging task, even for our talented leadership. What does that mean for Trinity and the community to which we minister?
- Ministries that cost money will almost certainly see cuts. This includes our lunch ministry to the homeless; our car-care ministry to those who can’t afford regular vehicle maintenance; and our meal ministry to the homebound.
- Our educational ministry may see cuts. That means the church’s support of our school, Trinity Lutheran School – Downtown, through scholarships and otherwise, will drop, as will its support of Trinity Lutheran Children’s Center. In the alternative, of course, the school and daycare may have to raise tuition or fees to offset the new costs imposed by Proposition 1. We may also see cuts in the college scholarships we offer to church members who plan to enter the ministry — I hope not cuts in monies already pledged, but who can say with regard to future scholarships?
- Our support of the many programs and ministries offered through LINC Houston, Lutheran Social Services, and Lutherans for Life — toys and educational materials for underprivileged youth, foster care, adoption support, pregnancy counseling and prenatal care — may have to be curtailed.
- Our support of other missions, at home and abroad, may need to be curtailed. This includes not just evangelical missions to spread the Gospel, but missions to bring clean water, medicine, food, medical care, and clothing and shelter to the impoverished.
- Our workforce may have to be curtailed. Full-time employees may be dropped to part-time status; part-time employees may need to be laid off; employee benefits–insurance and the like–may need to be reduced or cut.
So, no, Trinity won’t be “crippled,” if Parker means that our congregation won’t have to dissolve. But Parker shouldn’t be believed when she implies that this new fee isn’t going to impair the work that Trinity Lutheran Church and other non-profits, religious or otherwise, do in Houston (and around the world from a home in Houston). Whether it’s loss of jobs, loss of employment benefits, loss of educational opportunity, loss of food, loss of medical care, loss of childcare, or loss of opportunity to be reformed through the Gospel, Proposition 1 — which Parker championed — is going to cause people to lose. It’s going to cause some people — not massive corporations or wealthy real-estate barons, but the poor, the elderly, and the struggling; people who need the charity of others — to lose big.
I’ve made this note one of my few “viewable by everyone” postings on Facebook. Feel free to share it. If you, unlike me, are in the city of Houston, please write to your city council member, the five at-large city council members, and Mayor Annise Parker to urge them to exempt entities like Trinity from this substantial impairment of all the good that they do — good that they do not just in Houston, but around the world from their Houston homes.
God bless, and merry Christmas.