Regional Government Reform on the Ballot in Houston

If Proposition B passes, Houston and other populous areas could gain more voting power in the region’s metropolitan planning organization.

2 minute read

October 31, 2023, 11:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Aerial view of green Memorial Park lawns and trees with downtown Houston skyline in background

Joseph Sohm / Memorial Park, Houston

The Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC) is facing calls for reform as a local ballot proposition seeks to change its voting structure, reports Megan Kimble in Bloomberg CityLab.

According to Kimble, “since January, H-GAC has been the focus of a reform effort launched by Fair For Houston, the grassroots group behind Proposition B. The ballot initiative would force the board that governs the council to adopt population-proportional voting — and correct a persistent power imbalance that’s shortchanging urban residents, advocates say.”

Critics say the current ‘one government, one board seat’ voting structure disadvantages areas with the densest populations. While Houston and Harris County hold 11 percent of the votes on the council, their residents make up over 57 percent of the region’s population. In some cases, Houston officials say they were shut out of federal funding. When H-GAC distributed $488 million in assistance after Hurricane Harvey devastated the region, Houston, which was hit hardest, received just 2 percent of that funding.

Kimble explains the origin of metropolitan planning organizations, which grew out of a need for coordinated regional efforts during the interstate highway boom and are often tasked with distributing federal infrastructure funding. “But as cities have sprawled into increasingly constellated metropolitan megaregions, this structure of governance increasingly favors less populous areas over more dense — and diverse — urban cores.” A 2006 Brooking Institution study found that H-GAC had one of the least balanced boards of 50 MPOs they analyzed.

“If Prop B passes, H-GAC members will have 60 days to negotiate a new board structure that is proportional to population. If no agreement has been reached, Houston will withdraw from both H-GAC and the transportation policy council, the region’s metropolitan planning organization.”

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