Friday, September 24, 2010

Bill White's Legacy

While serving as Houston's mayor, Bill White was championed as a visionary who would lead our city to greatness. He advocated for light rail, rammed numerous "green" initiatives down our throats, and promoted Houston Hope. His business skills were touted as a new model for politicians.

In the wake of his exit from the local political scene, we are finding that White's leadership wasn't all that it appeared. He left the city with a massive budget deficit. He appointed leaders to Metro who apparently wasted millions of tax dollars, ignored federal law, and left Houstonians with a bunch of empty promises regarding light rail. And now we find that Houston Hope may leave tax payers holding the bag for millions more.

According to the Chronicle:
The city may have to return tens of millions of dollars to the Department of Housing and Urban Development for errors it made in the use of federal funds dating back to 2001....

City officials characterized HUD's challenges to its use of federal money as old news, but sources with knowledge of the matter say the city could be on the hook to pay back between $35 million and $45 million due to previous issues and newly identified problems. Those include questions about "Houston Hope" homes, a signature initiative of then-Mayor Bill White that sought to help low and middle-income individuals buy their own homes.
While in office, politicians love to tout programs like Houston Hope. It is an "easy" way to win political support with tax payer money. They love to make grand promises about how a program or initiative will provide untold benefits to everyone. By the time the program or initiative is exposed as a failure, the politician has moved on to greener pastures and his successors must clean up the mess. Such is the case with Bill White.

The more cynical among us would attribute this to politics as usual. And in a sense they would be right. 

While many complain about corrupt politicians and inane government policies, few question the basic premise underlying those policies. Few question the legitimacy of government's involvement in housing, education, transportation, or a myriad other aspects of our lives. Few question the legitimacy of using government coercion to regulate and control the actions of individuals. "Politics as usual" means a continual battle by competing groups to gain political influence and force their pet cause on the citizenry.

Bill White is certainly not unique in this respect. He capitalized on a booming economy, his political connections, and his likable personality to create support for expanding city government. He led a drunken orgy of regulations and programs that made voters feel good in the short term. Now, the hangover has set in and the bill must be paid.

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