Urban and Metropolitan Governance (U&MG) 

The Urban and Metropolitan Governance (U&MG) Program will conduct research on emerging governance issues, convene stakeholders in the region to discuss this research, and then work to implement the most promising solutions. Although more specialized topics may later be advanced in other ways, the program will initially lay out a series of framing reports covering governance issues associated with both Harris County and the City of Houston.

There will be some overlap with the Urban Development, Transportation, and Placemaking Program described above. For example, the Rice Village pilot project includes the examination of special district options and other regulatory mechanisms that may help communities assemble the needed political and economic resources to implement solutions. 

U&MG Projects

Consolidation or Collaboration? Common Solutions to Reduce Overlapping Services in Local Government 

In the fiscal year 2016, Harris County spent approximately 32 percent of its $2.1 billion budget on police services, fire protection and health and human services while the City of Houston spent approximately 53 percent of its $2.6 billion budget on the same service areas. Though some county services are limited to areas outside the city limits, there are several instances of overlap that offer the county and city opportunities to re-think the most efficient service provision strategy.

With this conversation well underway across the various municipalities within Harris County, this report is the first of several highlighting the various consolidation and collaboration options. The focus of this report is on the common forms of collaboration and consolidation currently in use across the country, which will be followed in the future by more detailed publications on specific service areas.

The options examined in this report are: 

  • In-House Production
  • Privatization
  • Contracting Out
  • Consolidation

"The Houston Pension Question" 

Houston today faces an increasing unfunded liability for its employee pensions that totals at least $3.9 billion, as of 2015, up from $212 million in 1992. If no action is taken, that unfunded liability is expected to continue growing. However, the city has some options, however painful, that can reduce the unfunded liability and restrain its future growth. This report is designed to contribute to the ongoing discussion of the future of Houston's pensions by: 

  • Clarifying the specific nature of the challenges affecting each of Houston's three pension systems.
  • Putting Houston's pensions in greater budgetary context.
  • Comparing and contrasting the position of Houston's pensions to those of other large U.S. cities.
  • Identifying potential options for reform and explaining the advantages and disadvantages of each of those approaches.
  • Highlighting the experience of several large U.S. cities that have pursued strategies to address their pension systems' liabilities.