June 03, 2004
New administration, same budget battles

In one of his last pieces for the Press, Tim Fleck suggested that Mayor Bill White and Comptroller Annise Parker would sooner or later butt heads. I'm sure that he nodded knowingly as he read this story today.

Mayor Bill White's budget revenue projections are off by $18.2 million, according to Controller Annise Parker.

Parker is predicting that White's numbers are too optimistic, and she refuses to recognize his projected increase in fines and expected extra money from the Metropolitan Transit Authority, she said Wednesday.

Also, the mayor's plan to cut back on the city's property tax revenue would have an impact on his proposed budget, Parker said.


The controller does not have a vote on the mayor's budget. But the controller must certify how much money the city can spend.

White downplayed the differences in revenue projections, saying once he provides the controller with additional information there won't be a dispute.

"We are confident in our numbers," he said. "I think those (differences) can all be resolved."


In past administrations, the mayor and controller often have disagreed about the amount of money the city will take in and -- as a result -- how much it should spend. Last year, the controller projected that the mayor's budget would fall short by $20.7 million.

After hearing Parker's report, Councilman Mark Ellis asked that the controller make a presention before the Fiscal Affairs Committee so council members can ask more questions about the discrepancies.

"I don't think it's that big a deal," Ellis said of the difference. "If the controller and the mayor's revenue projections were exactly the same, I would think they were in cahoots."

The mayor's proposed general fund budget is $1.454 billion -- a 3.3 percent increase from this year. Some council members find the mayor's plan overly optimistic.

"I think we need to have a thorough analysis," Councilman Gordon Quan said. "I think there are still a lot of questions out there. The controller is supposed to be the watchdog of the mayor. I want to see what she's watching."

In the grand scheme of things, this probably isn't that big a deal. Eighteen million bucks sounds like a lot of money, but it's barely more than 1% of the total budget. It shouldn't be that hard to split the differences, and if Parker and White come to blows over it then neither one is as good a politician as I think they are. I suspect this will get resolved amicably, though I also suspect this will be the easiest one to deal with.

One more item:

Some of the ways White's administration plans to close the gap include passing the increased cost of health benefits to city employees, refinancing debt, reducing pension fund payments and laying off employees.

He also is anticipating an additional $6.1 million in fees and plans to transfer $10 million in Metro general mobility money to the city's general fund.

"We are entitled, by contract, to a certain amount of money from Metro," White said.

Former Mayor Bob Lanier used to pump $50 million a year into the city's general fund with an annual cash payment from Metro. But White's predecessor, Mayor Lee Brown, phased that out in exchange for more Metro funding for city transportation projects.

White said his plan to add Metro money into the general fund "is not the same thing" as what Lanier did. He says he is simply counting on Metro to repay money that is due the city, primarily for the construction of Metro's rail line. The money placed in the general fund, he promised, will still be used for mobility projects.

"We've been consulting with Metro. It's been cordial and not adversarial, and we expect prompt payment," White said.

Mayorbob's penchant for using Metro funds to supplement other city spending projects was a disaster from a mass-transit perspective. Ending that practice is one thing Lee Brown did right. I'll take White's word for it here, but this is something to keep an eye on.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 03, 2004 to Local politics | TrackBack
In past administrations, the mayor and controller often have disagreed about the amount of money the city will take in and -- as a result -- how much it should spend.
So, what's the track record of each? Is MayorBill a member of the MayoralBudgetSunshineSquad? Posted by: Michael on June 3, 2004 10:40 AM

He's optimistic, but I'm not sure how optimistic just yet. He's still on the honeymoon, so we'll see how this plays out.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on June 3, 2004 12:22 PM