Continental Pushes for Houston Airport Measure

Continental Airlines is spearheading a campaign to help pass Proposition G - a measure it says is needed for growth of Houston's airports, as well as the airline itself.

The proposition, which has the backing of Mayor Bill White, would amend the charter of the city of Houston to exclude airport revenues and other self-sustaining enterprise funds, which depend on user fees rather than taxes, from the city's current limits on revenue collection.

Opponents say voters should say no to Proposition G because of the effect it could have outside the airports for other city services paid for by enterprise funds.

Houston-based Continental, which employs 20,000 in the Houston area, is asking employees who live in the city for support and is reaching out to frequent fliers and business leaders.

"If Prop G does not pass, our ability to grow at Intercontinental will be hurt," Larry Kellner, chairman and chief executive of the carrier, told employees in his weekly taped message.

If passed, the ballot proposal would remove the city's enterprise funds from the cap known as Proposition 2 that was voted in by Houstonians in 2004.

Continental maintains that the cap should be eliminated because as landing fees and gate fees grow, there should be no limit on the city's ability to invest that money to maintain and expand the airports to bring in additional visitors and businesses.

The ballot item would have an effect on funding Houston's other airports. Dallas-based Southwest Airlines, which carries more than 80 percent of the passengers at Houston's Hobby Airport, also supports the measure.

Other ballot items

Propositions A through H propose issuing bonds to fund more police and to improve neighborhood drainage, parks and libraries. City officials say taxes will not be increased to pay for those programs.

Proposition G applies to the city's enterprise funds, which rely on user fees, not property taxes, to pay for airports, water and sewer service and convention facilities.

Those against Proposition G contend the changes would impose economic burdens on residents. Among the opponents are former Councilman Carroll Robinson and local businessman Bruce Hotze. "Prop G is bad for taxpayers," Hotze said. "It will mean higher water and sewer rates and higher property taxes because much of the revenue will be excluded under Proposition G."

Losing revenue?

Hotze said passing the proposition would remove 47 percent of the city's revenue and 80 percent of the long-term debt from the rules enacted with the passage of Proposition 2 in 2004.

The wording of the ordinance passed by City Council calling for the vote specifically limits use of water and sewer funds outside those departments.

Continental has launched a broad-based campaign to generate support, which includes political advertising.

Continental said in a notice to employees that the exclusion of airport revenues from the 2004 ceiling is important because that money comes from airlines and their passengers, not property taxes, so it said that limits shouldn't be placed on them.

"An airport is an economic engine underpinning the community," Continental spokesman Dave Messing said. "So it is bad for the city to cap revenues like that. It is an engine for creating jobs and business activity."

Continental, one of the city's biggest employers, isn't alone in its campaign efforts.

White is pushing for passage of Proposition G, and his political action committee, called Citizens to Keep Houston Strong, also is working on it and propositions A through H.

The political action committee, which is run by the mayor, has by far outpaced a group opposed to the propositions in both fundraising and spending, according to the latest campaign filings.

White's group raised $421,000 from July 1 to Sept. 28 and spent $699,000, much of it on television advertising. As of the filing deadline this week, the committee still had $677,000 on hand, thanks to a $750,000 loan from Redstone Bank.

Giving out yard signs

Continental, which this week began handing out thousands of yard signs, said its political action committee called the Committee to Save Houston Airport Jobs has spent $184,000 as of Sept. 28 on the campaign. It has contributions of $782,000, which include in-kind contributions such as billboards carrying its message.

The opposition committee, "Let the People Vote, Houston," raised just $500, but spent about $58,000 after $64,500 in loans by Hotze, its treasurer.

"The investment is small compared to the $3 billion that we and the Houston Airport System have invested in Intercontinental's infrastructure in the last 10 years," Messing said. "Our expenses for this campaign are well-justified considering the value of the airport assets that are at risk under the current city charter."

WHAT IT MEANS

Name: Proposition G

Purpose: Eliminate caps on the city's enterprise funds.

Impact: Funding for Houston's airports, sewer and water systems.

Arguments

For: Current funding caps could stifle needed airport construction and other projects.

Against: Eliminating the caps could mean higher taxes.

When: Early voting on Proposition G and other items on the ballot begins Oct. 23 and extends through Nov. 3.

Source: Chronicle



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