Texas Liberal

All People Matter

Dead Houston City Worker Earned Near-Poverty Wage & My Letter To City Officials About This Issue

Last week, City of Houston road crew worker Jerry Hines, Jr, was killed while helping motorists during bad weather. The Houston Chronicle reported that Mr. Hines earned only $17,000 a year. I have e-mailed the following letter to my Houston elected officials. We will see what responses I get.——  

The Houston Chronicle reported that Jerry Hines, Jr., the city road crew worker killed on the job last week during the bad weather, earned only $17,000 a year.  Might you please tell me if this report was correct? Was this a salary for full-time work?

I calculate that an employee paid $17,000 a year for full-time work is making $8.17 an hour.  Do you believe $8.17 an hour is a living wage and that a city government should be paying such wages?

Might you also please inform me if other city workers make similar salaries? If so, how many and what kind of work do they do?

I was appalled when I read what Mr. Hines earned. I am hoping you have information that will put this report in a different light. If not, I am asking what steps you will take to help city workers earn a decent wage.

Thank you. 

9/18/07—Please click here for an update on the subject of low pay for City of Houston workers. 

January 25, 2007 - Posted by | Houston, Taxes---Yes!, Things I've Done


  1. I’m not sure I understand your point here. No disrespect intended, but your Mayor just shut down police overtime because of the perenially busted budget, (although there seems to be unlimited funds for Metro boondogles). Personally, I don’t live in Houston, I live in Spring, (Harris County), but I keep and eye on Houston’s numbers and the last time I looked, sales tax receipts were down, again. They go down every year. So, where or what would you tax to pay city workers more? Some city workers own homes. You raise the property tax to pay them more? That doesn’t make much sense. Raise the sales tax? That experiment has led to the near bankrupt condition of New Orleans. Try a city income tax? I don’t know; considering the “situation” with regard to Houston itself I don’t see where your going to find much money to raise salaries.

    Comment by Tony | January 27, 2007

  2. A city income tax would be just fine. A city income tax, and a progressive state income tax as well, coupled with reduced property taxes for low, moderate and fixed income homeowners would shift income the right way. Such taxes might enable Houston and the State of Texas to finally join the 20th-century and maybe even the 21st-century.

    Comment by neilaquino | January 27, 2007

  3. He chose to be a city worker and make 17,000 dollars a year. Do not feel guilty about his income(or yours); I am sure he is making ends meet(on payday loans and credit card debt). I am sure window washers on the high-rise buildings are compensated better. Let market forces determine wages(even of city workers) and set up a charitable trust for this poor fellow’s family. Assuming the government will use new taxes to raise compensation of its underpaid workers is dangerous. They(gov’t) will find other things to carelessly buy/spend(tollways, trains, more lanes on the highways, stadiums, city beautification)

    Comment by Amer | January 27, 2007

  4. “A city income tax would be just fine. A city income tax, and a progressive state income tax as well, coupled with reduced property taxes for low, moderate and fixed income homeowners would shift income the right way.”

    A liberal’s dream – income redistribution. Doesn’t matter that I went to night school while raising 4 sons and working shift work to become an engineer. And then through my own hard work and contribution’s to my company I got promoted several times and was able to retire at 55. And I was a high school drop out. Nope, doesn’t matter. There are folks who don’t want to expend the same effort I did so let’s just tax me and those like me to support them.

    Comment by myronhoward | January 27, 2007

  5. I’ll never convince people who rebut any call for a fair taxation system with a chip-on-the-shoulder tale of how hard they worked and how far they had to walk to school in the snow and all that.

    It’s not about supporting people who are able to work but don’t—It is about fair wages and fair treatment of those who do work.

    Comment by neilaquino | January 28, 2007

  6. Well, one could I suppose, make the claim that the only “fair” taxation is no taxation albeit that’s a bit of a closed end argument. Or maybe the answer lies in a slightly different solution, i.e., that gov’t itself is inherently inefficient. If the city can’t afford to pay a “living” wage when delivering certain services, then perhaps those services should be outsourced to private contractors then forced to compete to deliver the services in the most efficient method possible. And that would ultimately lead to providing those services through a combination of salaried full time staff supervising day laborers payed on a cash basis. They don’t pay any taxes when payed on a cash basis and would make considerably more than the city employee making 17,000 a year but subjected to witholding.

    My point about the situation in the city itself was that, if you look at the peculiar demographics of the “City” you see that it’s largest, (in raw numbers) of inhabitants are making below or just at the poverty level wages, living in substandard housing. I’m not saying that’s a “good” thing, it’s just a fact of life. I honestly don’t think you have a large enough tax base of upper income folk to tax to raise wages. (Numerically speaking, River Oaks is pretty small). So, for years, the City has relied upon business taxation, taxing the massive companies and their facilities on the port, oil companies and chemical companies, etc. My guess is that if you look at the overall rate at which they have been taxed, you’ll find it’s been going down for years when compared to production volumes. That’s got to be a source of the City’s funding woes.

    A progressive state income tax would be a good, if offset by elimination of the property tax, because it would be or should be directly deductible from Fed Income tax, thus meaning that the dollars stay where they are most efficiently and accountably used, at the State level. The feds are far more wasteful of our tax dollars than is the state. The problem you have with a City income tax is that people and businesses will simply leave. It’s already the case that many businesses in the city are having a very difficult time finding, hiring and retaining qualified new workers. (I know, I train the new ones only to see them leave at the end of a year for similar jobs in San Antonio, Austin, points north, etc.). And they are leaving for quality of life issues, i.e., overcrowding, too long comutes, lack of police and high crime concerns, etc. Hmmm, guess we’re back to that “funding” issue. But a city tax would push the business community over the edge because they’ve been forced to acknowledge that for the forseable future they will have to make expensive concessions to keep the older workers (such as myself) at the desk and behind the wheels of commerce. Tax my income at a city level, I’ll bail into an early, tax free retirement. But more importantly, only 2 in 10 of the people at my Houston company live in Houston, thus you wouldn’t capture their income. Its a conundrum.

    Comment by Tony | January 28, 2007

  7. If a 1% city income tax– city income taxes are sometimes applied to anybody who works in a city regardless of where they live– would cause you to retire than what can be said? Either people are willing to be taxed for the benefit of society or they are not.

    The story in the Chronicle today, 1/28, about the lack of government help for the poor and the high number of poor children in Texas says it well enough. You hear so much about God and country and Texas around here, what you don’t hear much about is concern for other people.

    Comment by neilaquino | January 28, 2007

  8. None of the previous responses address the original question of whether Mr. Hines was a full time or part time worker recieving $17,000/year. They do not consider whether he recieved any benefits working for the city. They do not consider whether Mr. Hines was single, supporting a family as the sole income provider, or whether his house hold had multiple earners.

    I was a single man living in Houston from 1998-2000. During this interval, I never grossed more than $16,000/year. I lived very comfortably on this appalling, near-poverty level salary. I even managed to save almost $10,000 during this interval (which made a nice war-chest for college;-). I stress again that I was single, so my money was my own.

    On the basis of the information posted on this website, how can you logically conclude anything about Mr. Hine’s financial situation?

    Comment by PMoreno | January 28, 2007

  9. “I’ll never convince people who rebut any call for a fair taxation system with a chip-on-the-shoulder tale of how hard they worked and how far they had to walk to school in the snow and all that.

    It’s not about supporting people who are able to work but don’t—It is about fair wages and fair treatment of those who do work.”

    No chip on my shoulder. I was just stating facts. Actually, I’m very proud of what I accomplished by taking advantage of educational opportunities at public schools and then working my hump off to progress in my job.

    And your response seems typical for a liberal. Liberals never want to talk about success stories. They only want to talk about the poor and downtrodden who would be so much better off if the government would redistribute the wealth. I was taught by my father, a truck mechanic by the way, that we are responsible for ourselves. And as the previous poster points out, it is possible to do on even a near poverty salary. A person just has to have the will to do it.

    And I’m sure your definition of a fair taxation system, fair wages and fair treatment are very different than mine. But I can guarantee you that if you increase the cost of doing business something will have to change. Either prices go up which impacts lower income folks or someone will lose their job.

    Comment by myronhoward | January 28, 2007

  10. This is a respone to Amer, yes he chose to make 17,000 a year. Just like he chose to stay out of jail and graduate from high school and college and not sell drugs. Just like he also chose to be a great father and a great citizen and help a stranded motorist, but one thing he did not choose, was to die that day, which he did. So we all have choices but we should’nt be taken advantage of.

    Comment by Sherrita | January 28, 2007

  11. Some people prefer government work because the hours are shorter, the vacations are longer, and the benefits are larger. The benefits are not included in that $17,000 per year, but if the City of Houston is like most other governmental agencies, Mr. Hines was probably REALLY making closer to $25,000 per year, which works out to about $12 per hour, and that isn’t too bad at all.

    Most people forget that things like retirement, insurance, and the like really are part of a person’s compensation. Though these things don’t appear as separate line items on the paycheck, they assuredly are NOT free. And they should be included in the “pay” figure.

    Comment by Anita Shingeldecker | January 28, 2007

  12. Mr. Hines may have had a good benefit package. I hope so. But $17,000 a year is low pay by any standard in this country. The electric company is not going to take vacation time as a form of payment.

    Comment by neilaquino | January 28, 2007

  13. My comments were related to his income and choice of occupation; not to his untimely death. Thanks Sherrita

    Comment by Amer | January 29, 2007

  14. $8.17 an hour probably in line with city workers compensation. The higher the skill usually equates to higher pay. Why ask the question?

    Comment by Ash | January 29, 2007

  15. Because $8.17 an hour is barely a living wage and I as a citizen and taxpayer don’t want to be associated with paying decent people crap wages.

    Comment by neilaquino | January 29, 2007

  16. I think a living wage should be a top priority for Houston.

    Comment by houstonmacbro | January 30, 2007

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