DALLAS - A measure that would restore a $500 million general obligation bond authorization to Houston survived the threat of extinction yesterday after a key opponent in the Texas House agreed to support the measure.
A spokesman for Mayor Robert Lanier said yesterday that state Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, has agreed not to block the measure after suggesting last week that he may. Turner is expected to support the legislation on the condition that the city spell out how it intends to use the bond proceeds.
"Our understanding is that he has agreed to support it," said Robert Frelow, an aide to the mayor.
Restoration of the authorization was considered endangered after Turner threatened to use a legislative procedure to kill the bill, Senate Bill 7, after it unanimously passed the Texas Senate and the House County Affairs Committee. Turner was unavailable for comment yesterday.
The bill was also at risk of being killed under a point of order that could have been called by any member of the state Legislature. The point of order was a possibility because the measure was not part of Gov. Ann Richards' original call for the current special 30-day legislative session.
Turner, who lost a bid to be Houston mayor last year to Lanier, had threatened to kill the measure, saying he favored calling a new election next year to ask voters to reauthorize the bond program.
City officials opposed a second election, saying it would cost as much as $900,000 that Houston does not have budgeted in its general fund.
Instead, city leaders support the move for legislation that would allow the city's bond authorization to be restored.
Earlier this month, the Texas attorney general's office said it could not authorize the first $100 million of bonds because of faulty ballot wording on the referendum approved by voters in the November 1991 election.
Because the city had lumped unrelated bond projects together under one referendum, state lawyers determined the bonds had violated a legal principle that prohibits voters from being forced to approve debt for programs they may not support in order to ratify those they do back. The referendum contains an all-or-none clause under which voters must approve or reject all of the projects on the ballot.
Houston voters instead approved the bond plan by a two-to-one margin in 1991.
Assistant attorney general Jim Thomassen, chief of the state's public finance section, has said he could authorize the bond sale if lawmakers pass a clarification such as the one proposed.
While support seems to be solidified behind S.B. 7, the question remains as to whether the measure will come up for a vote in the House.
Aides to House Speaker Gib Lewis, D-Fort Worth, yesterday said the measure had not yet been placed on the House calendar. He also said the bill may have to wait until lawmakers finish debating a controversial school finance plan.