Houston Chronicle | September 24, 2015
Credentials: Owner of a private equity firm investing in real estate, energy services and health care.
Talking points: McVey greatly has stressed economic development in the campaign thus far, arguing the city must be far more aggressive in recruiting both domestic and international companies to relocate to Houston to ensure a bright future.
Pros and cons: McVey touts his business acumen as preparing him for the complexities of running the city, and points to his international work, including as a member of the U.S. Agency on International Development's Board for International Food and Agricultural Development, as evidence that he can make good on his plans to bring boost Houston's global role. Observers have found little in McVey's statements thus far to distinguish the first-time candidate from his opponents, however.
Questionnaire and candidate's responses
(Note: The Houston Chronicle submitted these questionnaires to each campaign and asked that the candidates fill them out themselves. The responses have been edited for style, formatting and spelling.)
1. What is the biggest issue or challenge facing Houston?
How to create enough revenue to pay for the services wanted by the residents and needed to maintain the city as an international business hub. The city would benefit from enhanced leadership, organizational management and vision for the future.
2. Pensions: How would you describe Houston's pension situation? Do you agree reform is needed, and if so how would you pursue it?
There are really six pension issues: municipal, police and fire, and then past/present or future for each. Based on my best understanding, each of the three separate pensions needs a little different solution.
The city has underfunded the municipal pension. This fund needs to be caught up and fully funded. Going forward with the plan that was renegotiated for new-in-2008 and later employees, the contribution levels are fairly reasonable.
The police pension also needs to be fully funded because of underfunding in the past. The current pension obligation for new employees has been improved, but still needs work. This is a particular problem because so many officers are eligible to retire and it takes so long to get officers trained and up to speed. It is important to remember that police officers do not receive Social Security, and the city does not pay into Social Security for them. You must always account for the 4 percent or so of social security as you look at police and fire pensions.
The current firefighters pension fund is almost fully funded, but the benefits going forward are not sustainable, and need to be renegotiated. A deal is a deal — the past fund is what it is, and we shouldn't balance the budget on the backs of our heroes, but a pension needs to be sustainable. A difficulty with the firefighters' pension is that the control of contributions, information, etc., is by state statute and not under the control of the city. They also do not contribute to social security, which adds to the percentage of contribution, and can make any contribution seem inflated.
The underfunding continues to increase the problem. In essence, the city has borrowed money from its employees and, because those funds are not invested and compounding, the debt owed by the city grows every day, getting bigger and bigger, just like a family's credit card.
The City needs to bite the bullet, bond the arrears, and be done with it. Most of this is not rocket science--it needs the political will to deal with it, once and for all. The biggest long term issue is the firefighter pension benefits, and a better relationship between mayor and firefighters would help move that issue forward.
3. Taxes and city budget:
a. Do you think Houston's taxes or fees should be increased for any reason? (For example: Lifting the voter-imposed cap that limits the revenue Houston can collect from property taxes.)
How would the city afford to pay for added programs and services without raising the revenue cap?
The revenue cap makes it very difficult to adjust to the residents' demands for additional services. It starves the city as the population gets more affluent and property values go up. No one likes to increase taxes, but it is important to be realistic about what can be accomplished with the dollars available. The city is going in the hole every day. No political rhetoric fixes the need for basic services: fire, police, roads, water, and trash pickup.
Most cities have a garbage fee of some kind, and almost no large cities pick up heavy trash every month. I'm not suggesting we create a fee or stop picking up heavy trash — this is just an example — but I think it is important to have an honest conversation about the truth and the tradeoffs. The residents of Houston need to understand the cost of the services they want, and be part of the conversation. In the end, we all may decide to eliminate some services, reduce some services, or change the amount of revenue the city receives.
b. What areas of the budget would you cut, if any? Where would you put that money?
The key to finding useful cuts is to analyze the real data, get input from the workers in the departments, talk about what people want, and then make the changes. An example would be having people all push their trash and recycle bins to one side of the street, rather than both sides. This was a suggestion from the actual garbage truck drivers, wanting to save their jobs...it would take a little adjustment from citizens, but not too much, and would half the street-trips.
Improved technology, while needing an initial investment, would both save money and increase transparency.
Any and all money gathered I would put into new economic development efforts or invest in other areas where that investment can save money in the long term. The economic development efforts will have the express charge of recruiting/assisting new business, and their employees, with coming to Houston.
We have tremendous opportunity across the eastern swath of Houston. Development has really been in spite of, not because of the city. I'd like to see that randomness transformed into purposeful economic engines that increase revenue.
4. Public safety:
a. Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland has voiced concern about understaffing at the city's police department, last year requesting $105 million to hire hundreds of new officers over the next five years. Do you think HPD's staffing concerns are valid? If so, would you fund McClelland's request and how would you do it?
He's right. We are going to be in trouble soon. It takes a while to grow experienced officers. The best way is to go get federal dollars we should be getting now. The city relationship with the federal and state legislators hasn't been robust enough to guarantee the appropriation of dollars needed and those funds have gone to other states.
b. The city's criminal justice facilities are run down and city officials say they are inadequate for their current needs. Would you pursue a new justice complex? If so, how?
First, we need to get out of the jail business-that's part of what the joint processing facility is about. The Travis building, muni courts and the city jail are valuable land that could be sold. We have lots of options for new facilities fairly close to downtown. Some functions, like the courts, need to be strategically placed, with bus/rail lines.
a. Would you support a proposition to repeal or greatly change ReBuild Houston?
If the city doesn't have the funds from ReBuild, what do we do about roads? Drainage? It is irresponsible to discuss dismantling this program, even if public perception is skewed against it — the reality is quite different.
What I would support is perhaps having an eventual (after the debt has been paid off) end to the actual fee in exchange for indexing the committed portion of the property tax rate to the construction inflation rate. Over time, several decades, the fund will build up sufficiently to handle the needs. Again, it's part of the conversation.
b. Would you reallocate money (and how much) for road maintenance? How would you spend it?
Our lack of funds, coupled with term limits, creates a bias toward the ultimately more expensive short-term fixes, rather than more-cost-effective long-term solutions. We need a perpetual CIP, with valued assets, approached separately from politics or quickie solutions. Maintenance is important, and we need to be clear about regular long-term maintenance that must be included so that our roads stay in good shape. What we call "maintenance" today, which is really a "patch and pray" system of letting assets fail and then patching them to keep them going a little longer has come to the end of its ability to sustain.
c. The streets currently are being rebuilt to handle a "100-year" rain event, meaning the worst 1 percent of storms. Would you increase the design standards, and if so how much more money would you spend?
We need to use the best data and best practices for the soil, traffic, and situation. Some of the outcomes of 100-year events, which are frequent, are a reality of our weather and geography. This is another area where we must use real data. How much does it cost the city (all residents, businesses and government) when a rain event floods the streets? The residents of the city need to understand these costs and be part of the conversation. In the end we all may decide to that a two-year rain within the storm sewers, and 100 years within the streets, is acceptable or choose to reduce other services or change the amount of revenue the city receives.
d. Sidewalks: Should the city take on a greater role in sidewalk construction and repairs?
Yes. It's unreasonable that we don't. It's also expensive, but sidewalks are a crucial element of any urban landscape's appeal; we need them to be right, and we need them there. This is a long-term issue, just like fixing the streets.
a. What should Metro's priorities be over the next decade? Would you push for the completion of the University Line or commuter rail?
Yes. Mobility, mobility, mobility. We need a mobility plan that gets people and things from one point to another quickly and efficiently, or we choke on our own success. We need a better customer experience to increase public ridership.
I would push to complete the internal mobility system, and then connect the airports to that system. Both transportation from the airports and commuter rail are more useful and functional when people can get where they need to go once they get here.
Houston has many economic centers where people live, work, shop and do all the other things people do. We need to consider the whole system and what people need to function. We need to make full use of federal funds and any other source of funds to complete this network.
b. Would you seek to encourage modes of transportation other than automobiles? If so, what and by what means?
Sure. Trains, better connections, lobby for high-speed rail between populations centers, BRT, trolleys routes, both fixed and unfixed. We need our share of federal funds in this arena, better designs for walkable and bike-friendly streets, appropriate, thoughtful parking options, and shade...lots of trees and well-designed stops.
c. Do you support the Texas Department of Transportation's $6 billion-plus plan to remake I-45 downtown? Why or why not?
Not sure. Maybe. The design thrown out at first glance seems ok, and a high-line would be great, but I need more specifics. It would create more impetus to sell the police facilities and relocate.
d. The location for the Houston station of the proposed Houston-Dallas high speed train has yet to be selected. Where would you suggest placing it?
This would be in conjunction with the railroads, and probably the state. What I do know is that it needs to be thought through and it needs to create appropriate development around the area chosen. It's just one more tool we need to use to increase prosperity. Everything we do, everything, needs to be seen through a purposeful economic opportunity lens.
7. Economic development:
a. Houston is consistently ranked among the cities with the worst income inequality and income segregation in the country. What do you think are the root causes? What should be done about it?
No city can be great with a second-class education system. Some of HISD is truly great — how do we, as a community, break down the silos here? Community-wide pre-K and child care (ages 6 weeks-pre-K)?Do we make community college free?
We need to talk about big, bold ideas, and the mayor is the natural convener of those conversations.
We need better transit options. If someone poor is limited by the availability of jobs to the current mass transit system, they are limited indeed.
We need purposeful economic development. We don't have a plan, we don't have enough people, we don't evaluate and then go get businesses and bring them here.
Houston never went after the governor's economic development grants. We lost Boeing's headquarters relocation to Houston, somehow. We don't go get federal incentives and grants like we should. My understanding is that Charlotte solicited over 400 high-tech European firms during a time period Houston got four. This has to change.
b. What would be your approach to economic development incentives, whether subsidies, tax abatements or use of the Chapter 380 tool under state law?
Currently this is request-driven. We need to decide what kinds of development will benefit the residents of the city, with a strategy, and we need to go get these businesses, jobs, and potential rooftops.
c. One economic development tool is the Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone. More than $100 million in property taxes are generated annually inside the city's TIRZs. Critics say these zones trap money in rich areas, worsening inequities across the city. Supporters say the zones drive development, and note that because they are exempt from the revenue cap, they generate revenue the city otherwise could not collect. What would be your approach to TIRZs?
I'm generally with the supporters. They do good things, and could possibly do great things, with additional coordination and support, as well as a purposeful plan. Some people seem to believe that a TIRZ is a magic-money machine. They are not. Private development and investment in an area is what creates the increment to invest in more infrastructure.
I believe that occasionally these tools have not been implemented well. I think it is important that we create systems for better transparency, for better coordination between TIRZ, Management Districts, and the city, and for better public engagement to determine the priorities for TIRZ investment into infrastructure.
8. Term limits: Should Houston switch to two four-year terms? Why or why not? If yes, when should this change take effect? This question was asked prior to council's vote to place the item on the Nov. 3 ballot.
This is the people's decision, but having said that, most projects, most concrete-poured, engineering-designed, architect-using projects need about 10 years to get in one end and out the other. Priorities get changed, which costs money, things don't get finished or get interrupted.
Instead of switching the number of terms, perhaps we should expand the terms to four years. Three 4-year terms would allow a beginning to kick off priorities; a middle, where work gets mostly done; and a lame-duck end, to finish things. This isn't one of my priorities, except it really is inefficient, running every two years and not having enough time to get big projects done. It creates a climate of small-ball and quick-wins, instead of real long-term investment. City officials are also at a disadvantage because many of the other elected officials in the area are not term limited.
9. HERO: Do you support the Equal Rights Ordinance passed by City Council last year? If not, would you alter or repeal it? This question was asked prior to council's vote to place the item on the Nov. 3 ballot.
HERO supports equal rights. I support it, would defend it, but would try to listen to opponent's fears and concerns and address them. Much of the controversy is based on misunderstandings and fears, and is a distraction.
Click here to open the original page