Sparks Fly Over the Iron Curtain…. Of Houston

According to the Houston Chronicle, the proposed rate increase by Entergy for Kingwood-area customers was “not considered controversial.” … until allegations of communism were thrown around.

Entergy wants to increase the Kingwood area of Houston by $14.37/month because it is at the southern tip of their service area.  The city of Houston did a study of this proposal at the request of Council Member Mike Sullivan, who is the council member in Kingwood (District E). According to the study, “‘Entergy’s rate increase request is overstated and not supported by evidence.’”  In fact, the study showed that the rates are actually too high as it is.  When it came up for a vote, Council Member Helena Brown stated that she is in support of the rate increase “because it is justified” (you can view the video here – it is Item 30).  She went on to say the following:

“‘I understand my colleague Sullivan expressed the concerns of his constituents in the Kingwood area. But I also understand the folks in Kingwood are conservatives.  They do not believe in the regulation of rates of businesses. That’s communism.  I will be standing in support of this business and the need that they have” (see here).

To her comment, CM Sullivan said, “‘Truthfully, I don’t think you have a clue what Kingwood believes in.’” He went on to say that he is not a communist. Showing some levity about the whole situation, Council member James Rodriguez called CM Sullivan, “Comrade Sullivan” and slapped him on the shoulder.

There are just so many problems with this whole scenario. The first is CM Brown’s attempt to use an ordinance to highlight a bigger problem.  Entergy is essentially a monopoly.  There is no free market competition between companies.  Since government has made it into a monopoly, the government is the only form of checks and balances.  CM Brown clearly believes in electricity deregulation and wants the government to have no part in setting prices. I’m not going to get into whether or not she is correct in this belief because that could be a whole blog itself. Whether you agree with this concept or not, she is not going about it the best way.  If she doesn’t want the government to regulate prices, she should work on making it so.  However, until that happens, city council should be responsible to consider the merit of each proposed price increase.  By not considering the proposal at all just because she doesn’t believe the government should have a say, she is doing an injustice to all the Kingwood residents.

Next, CM Brown said,“We have a situation where as a city we just recently passed an increase on the taxicab rate, 13%. We also last year increased water rates by 40%. And now we’re talking about a small energy company, serving its clients well, wanting to do a 13% increase.” I’m really not sure what one thing has to do with another.  Is she really using two other rate increases (one of which, the taxicab increase, she voted against) as means to justify other rate increases? Somehow the government should get involved with taxicab rates but not Entergy rates?

Also, CM Brown said, “They [Entergy] will get the approval of this when they appeal to the Board [Public Utility Commission].  It will be approved, and so this is just delaying the inevitable.” Although CM Brown has been in office only since January, she has done more than her fair share of tagging. (Tagging is when a council member delays an ordinance’s vote for a week). When all council members and the mayor are in agreement except for her, isn’t she just delaying the inevitable by putting it off for a week?  You are supposed to vote yes or no on issues based on merit and not just to delay the inevitable of a future vote.

Next, CM Brown said that a rate increase is justified even though a study showed that it is not. Council Member Bradford made a good point by questioning if the study didn’t support this increase, what did the study show to be necessary? Apparently the study showed that no increase is justified and that rates should actually be reduced. If Council denies the increase, Entergy can take it to the Public Utility Commission.CM Brown said that the increase is justified based on what information? It is irresponsible to make an assertion like that without basing it on anything and basically saying that if the company believes it is necessary, it must be.

To add to the odd day, Council Member Jerry Davis wore a hoodie to highlight the Trayvon Martin case…. He also appeared to be chewing gum the whole time.  What a peculiar day for City Council when one of the most conservative members has to actually say the words, “I am not a communist by voting for this rate denial.”


3 Responses to Sparks Fly Over the Iron Curtain…. Of Houston

  1. Oh my! Our District A CM is at it again. She is an embarrasment to our District and our city. I am glad to see other Council Members standing up to her, while at the same time, representing their constituents in a dignified manner. Although January was just a couple of months ago, many residents in our District wish election time was coming next week.

  2. Peter Houston says:

    Pensions only account for about 4% of the total budget, closer to 9% of the General Fund Budget so suggesting that they are in any way responsible for the mess the city is in seems ill founded. Compared to other major cities, we pay our public safety employees less but when actively employed as well as in their retirement, generally charging more for health care coverage as well. The pensions offered since 2004 to police and municipal employees are so low that the city is not “hiring the best and brightest” by any description, these earned benefits accounting for most of the accruing liabilities described by the city appointed “Long Range Task Force”.

    The latest proposals to bring HFD’s pension down to a level where their police counterparts are at are destined for failure too. No one in Austin is going to support any such measure, nor will they agree to such changes unless they are brought up to pay levels comparable to other major cities, they are currently around the 176th best paid dept while the city is the fourth, almost third largest in the nation. I doubt their police brothers are going to give away more too, the recent suggestion that retirees no longer get cost of living adjustments likely to backfire.

    Speaking as an insider on the matter, given the way the city continues to provide corporate handouts and spend on frills while underfunding pensions, the first cuts need to be made there. Unravel the 380 and TIRZ agreements in existence, employ an austerity budget for awhile, and show the employees that they matter, not the usual lip service. It is possible HFD would agree to reestablish an 8 year cap on DROP, HPD would agree to having one to restore their junior officers, and both might allow for some reconfigured benefits but they are not going to do it to help politicians continue pork barrel spending.

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