Emmett Says No to Early to Rise Ballot Item

County Judge Ed Emmett decided to take the undemocratic approach and say “no” to the folks from Early to Rise, who did the democratic thing and collected over 80K signatures to place on the November ballot a one-cent tax increase which would pay for an early childhood education initiative.

Early to Rise released this statement:

Earlier today Harris County Judge Ed Emmett announced that he would not order an election to approve a one-cent property tax to support early childhood education.

            “Because we believe the law requires the county judge to place this issue before the voters, we will be filing a petition for a writ of mandamus in behalf of the registered voters who signed the petition requesting relief from the Court of Appeals,” said attorneys Richard Mithoff and Russell Post, who are representing Jonathan Day in behalf of registered voters who signed the petition seeking to put the issue on the ballot.

            “This is not about Judge Emmett.  He is a committed and conscientious public official,” Mithoff said. “This is not about the wisdom of the early childhood initiative: voters may disagree about whether revenue should be raised for this project.”

            “This is about the law,” he said.

            The Texas Legislature has authorized voters to petition for an election to authorize their government to levy and collect taxes for educational purposes.  The requirement to invoke this procedure represents a high hurdle–requiring the support of 10% of voters from the last gubernatorial election.  We have now validated more than twice that number.

          Under these circumstances, the Texas Legislature has mandated that a county judge has no discretion to second-guess the will of the people.  Rather, “the county judge . . . shall immediately order an election.”  This command is unambiguous and unequivocal; it must be enforced.

            Therefore, this initiative should be put before the voters to decide if early childhood education is something they want to invest in.

            The Early to Rise program, to be operated under the auspices of the elected Harris County Board of Education, will strive to improve daycare centers, early childhood education, teacher training and educational opportunities for the more than 400,000 pre-school children in our community.

            Funding will be derived via a one penny per $100 valuation of property, subject to voter approval in November 2013.  Given that the average Harris County home is valued at $192,000, this would be a $19.20 annual tax to homeowners; homeowners over 65 would pay roughly $3.20 a year because of their exemptions.

Frankly, I think that’s too nice a statement on the Judge after all that work Early to Rise put into the effort.

Kuff has more on the Early to Rise plan and its management and oversight, particularly the political accountability. According to the plan, the HCDE board would get to pick some board members to serve, pretty much like other entities in town, like the Sports Authority and Port Authority get appointees. I’m still thinking about whether this is good enough, but at least there is some say. Still, things are in limbo at the moment.

The plot has definitely thickened on this one. Let’s see what the Court of Appeals will say about this one.

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