DALLAS -- As Texas prepares for three upcoming city ballots, Houston Controller George Greanias yesterday challenged the assertion that as many as 1,250 workers could be fired if voters do not approve a budget-balancing bond deal on Saturday.
Voters are being scared into supporting Mayor Robert Lanier's plan to issue $25 million of five-year general obligation bonds to settle legal claims traditionally paid from the general fund, Mr. Greanias said in an interview and later in a press conference.
"I'm very concerned about the scare tactics being used," said the controller, part of a minority opposing the bond plan. "Layoffs are not the consequences of the bond election being defeated."
With a modest turnout expected, local voters will decide tomorrow on the Houston bond sale. Voters will also choose on local ballots whether to raise taxes to rebuild a Dallas landmark, and whether to authorize Austin's first capital program in eight years.
In Houston, many expect voter approval of the mayor's plan, which is necessary to balance the fiscal 1993 budget that began July 1.
Personally campaigning for the measure's passage, the mayor has raised nearly $100,000 to pay for fliers and limited television advertising in its support. A wide range of groups have also endorsed the measure, saying they favor Mr. Lanier's plan over cuts of some 1,250 city workers he said will be needed if the plan fails.
"We've gotten upwards of 50 different endorsements," said mayoral spokesman Robert Frelow, adding that the mayor stands by his estimate. "They favor this over the possibility of budget cuts."
But yesterday, Mr. Greanias challenged the mayor's math, saying the budget can still be balanced without the borrowing. He said the mayor's own budget calls for spending only $8.2 million of the bond money in this fiscal year to pay legal claims.
Further, he said, even if $25 million had to be cut from the city payroll, it would not require the number of layoffs the mayor has projected. "The numbers don't compute," the controller said. "That concern is not valid if you look at the numbers."
Whether the matter is approved will ultimately be decided by a fraction of the registered voters in the nation's fourth-largest city. The bond issue is the only measure on the ballot.
"We're expecting it to pass," said Mr. Frelow. "But with bond elections the turnout it usually small, so you never know."
In Dallas, voters will decide whether they support a plan for a one-year, half-percent increase in the city's sales tax. If approved, the tax would raise an estimated $60 million to finance badly needed renovations at historic Fair Park and the legendary Cotton Bowl football stadium.
A good turnout is expected over the issue, one that has divided support among local political leaders. If the city wins voter approval on Saturday, officials would then ask Texas lawmaker next spring to raise the current 8.25% cap on the state's sales tax.
A successful bid for the new rate of 8.75% would give Dallas the highest sales tax of any major city -- but not for long.
"This would self-destruct after one year," said Dallas Finance Committee Chair Max Wells, who believes local approval will bolster legislative support for the plan. "Voters know there is a sunset provision here."
Triple-A rated Dallas has traditionally resisted higher taxes to fund projects.
If the measure passes, part of the proceeds would be used to defease $9.7 million certificates of obligation backed initially by a pledge of hotel and motel taxes. The securities were sold in June to finance repairs to the Cotton Bowl.
While officials in Houston and Dallas expect modest turnouts Saturday, absentee balloting has already been strong in Austin, where interest in competing proposals to limit development near a popular local reservoir has overshadowed 22 bond proposals totaling $297 million.
"We've already had about 16,000 absentee ballots, and some people are saying we could have a 30% turnout," said Lolita Slagle, a spokesman for Mayor Bruce Todd. "Some are saying that the people most interested in the [issue] have already voted."
It is not clear how such a turnout might affect voter response to the city's first major capital program in eight years.
Voters face 13 proposals that would authorize $170.62 million of general obligation bonds for a wide range of projects. That is the largest slate of tax-backed bonds put before voters since 1984, when voters approved $299 million of GOs as part of a total $1 billion of bonds.
Also on the ballot are two revenue bond proposals seeking voter approval of $82.5 million in electric utility debt and $44 million of water and wastewater bonds for an environmental project. A separate proposal seeks to clarify the authorization of an already approved revenue bond deal.
Meanwhile, six other proposals seek to de-authorize $165 million of bonds for projects that have since been canceled.
"The city council just decided that some projects approved back in the mid-1980s were not do-able," said an investment banker who works on city bond deals. "Austin has to be unique in Texas in actually asking voters to take back bond authorization."