Only in Rick Perry's Texas and Annise Parker's Houston would it be illegal to feed the homeless while the River Oaks Country Clubs get whopping tax breaks. As if the River Oaks Country Club needs a tax break.
The divide between the haves and haves not has never been greater than it is today. Of course one is not surprised by Rick Perry and the Republican Party's embrace of extreme austerity measures and downright cruelty to those at the bottom of the economic ladder. But one would hardly expect the same from a so-called progressive Democrat in the fourth largest city in the U.S.
Last year Mayor Parker, as did mayors across the U.S., cracked down on folks from Occupy Wall St. groups. Different cities had different approaches. In Houston, the occupiers fed homeless people in downtown parks. Local business owners apparently did not like this practice.
Cowering under pressure from city fat cats the Houston City Council passed an ordinance that imposed regulations on feeding the homeless. In short, the regulations made it next to impossible for the occupy people to continue to feed Houston's hungry homeless.
The city also made it illegal for anyone to remove the contents of a city trash can. In other words a homeless person cannot look for food in or remove it from the city's trash. And so last week the Houston police ticketed a nine year Navy veteran, who has fallen on hard times, for trying to feed himself out of the city's trash cans.
HPD issued a short statement: "The ordinance is specific to the Central Business District. It is a violation for anyone to remove any contents of any bin, bag or other container that has been placed for collection of garbage, trash or recyclable materials. An officer has probable cause to issue such a citation when a person is seen opening a lid and rummaging through contents of a dumpster or trash can."Is this nuts or what? As one who lives in Houston I am both outraged and embarrassed. One of my sisters lives in Newport Beach, Ca. According to her the local police bus the homeless to a facility in nearby L.A. It's like get the "filth" out of our safe haven and a resort for the privileged. I am mortified that Houston seems to be practicing the same. What on earth are you thinking Mayor Parker and Stephen Costello? What fat cat business owner put a gun to your head? Shame on Houston for caving.
In Rick Perry's Texas where government is small and taxes are low, state resources to offer services to the mentally ill, homeless and street alcoholics have been gutted. What are these people supposed to do in order to survive?
Alas it seems that Houston, like Newport Beach, in the OC of California want to shoo its downtrodden and sick out of the city, too. There seems to be a plan in the works to build some fat cat private treatment center outside of Houston, thank you, where crony capitalists will somehow profit from treating the mentally ill while ripping off the funding sources including local taxpayers. Though the efforts sound noble and compassionate up front, this is, after all, Rick Perry's Texas where there is little if any oversight of programs such as these. Think CPRIT if you think I am kidding.
Cross posted on Texas Kaos.
Meanwhile country clubs throughout Harris County (Houston area) have received generous tax breaks since the 1970's. Unlike country clubs, the homeless and poor do not have powerful lobbies.
Twenty years ago, the Sunday front page of the Houston Chronicle reported that in Harris County "a dozen posh country clubs are receiving a special tax break that allows the exclusive clubs to avoid paying almost $1.6 million in property taxes each year."Meanwhile schools in Houston and throughout Texas are struggling to make ends meet.
Chief among them was the River Oaks Country Club, whose well-tended golf course is the playground of Houston's elite. Nestled next to downtown, that property was taxed at a fraction of its market value.
Nothing has changed in the subsequent two decades, except the lost tax income - at a time when the Houston Independent School District is considering a tax hike - now exceeds $4.5 million annually.
"I was shocked and appalled," state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, said of research by his staff showing that 22 Harris County country clubs now claim the exemption. "It can't be justified
But they also include a tax break that's saved nearly $1 billion a year in taxes to the oil and gas industry. Called the "high-cost gas exemption," the break was passed before the industry developed economical fracking techniques.Indeed. Think about how many jobs these taxes could have created for the homeless. Or by creating resources to help them get back on their feet again. Think about the ways in which this tax money could have been used instead to support schools, build new roads and fund research efforts for science and water conservation.
Last session, Ellis and Villarreal both tried to undo that exemption, to no avail. But both remain convinced the exemption is outdated - and costing the state close to $1 billion in some years that could be spent on highways, education or health.
But welcome to Republican Texas where the notion of what is good for business is good for Texas is one big fat whopper.
Worse, based on the behavior of many of the politicians in Texas, including Mayor Parker, citizens like me are beginning to realize that most share the same view of 47% of the American people as does Mitt Romney.