City passes Mayor Turner’s final budget

Get ready, whoever is up next.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Houston city staff will see pay raises, money will go toward sidewalk repairs and residents won’t have to maintain their own drainage ditches anymore. All are part of the $6.2 billion budget that passed through Houston City Council with just two no votes Wednesday.

The council voted, 15-2, to approve Mayor Sylvester Turner’s final spending plan, which features the largest net savings in decades. The budget includes previously announced pay raises for all city employees, a drastic increase in tax dollars for Houston’s streets and drainage program, and a plan to revive a long-discarded program for staff to proactively clean and maintain open ditches across neighborhoods.

At-Large councilmembers Mike Knox and Michael Kubosh voted against the budget. Knox, who has consistently voted no to the past seven budget proposals, said there needs to be a larger reform to ensure Houston’s finances are structurally sound. Kubosh voiced concerns about the uncertain impact of state bills on the city’s financial position.

Turner, on the other hand, said this is the strongest budget his administration has adopted in his eight-year tenure. The city’s savings are set to rise to $405 million, surpassing the legally required level by approximately $220 million. The mayor said the high fund balance will set a strong foundation for the next administration after he leaves office early next year.

“Any mayor that comes in has got to deal with the challenges that come before you. For me, I’ve had to deal with unfunded pension liabilities that had not been addressed in 20-something years … and a $160 million budget deficit,” Turner said. “There are a lot of good things in this budget. It not only factors in fiscal year ’24, but it also provides an additional cushion for the next mayor and City Council as they deal with fiscal year ’25.”

Overall, the city’s $3.3 billion taxpayer-funded general fund, which covers core services, will see a 7.7 percent increase from the previous budget. Most of the additional spending will go toward already announced pay hikes for city workers — 6 percent for firefighters as a part of the three-year, 18 percent increase and 3 percent for police officers and municipal workers. In line with previous years, police, at $1 billion, and fire, at $593 million, make up about half the operating budget.

The new budget is set to draw another $160 million from the American Rescue Plan Act, a funding source that the city has relied heavily for the past three years to avoid what Turner said would be “significant” service cuts and layoffs. As federal dollars are set to dry up, officials have forecast deficits between $114 million and $268 million during the next mayor’s first term.

In an op-ed this week, City Controller Chris Brown expressed concern about Houston’s practice of using nonrecurring federal funds to fill its structural deficit, equating it to a homeowner selling furniture to pay the mortgage. He further cautioned that the recent increase in sales tax revenue may not last, as inflation could reduce residents’ discretionary spending.

“No one administration or City Council is to blame for these challenges, but they do require our attention,” Brown said. “We must prepare for the fiscal cliff looming on the horizon.”

Turner said many of Brown’s previous forecasts have not come to pass and tackling future financial hurdles is a task for the next mayor.

“There are some issues that are on the horizon and whoever’s going to be coming forth will have to deal with them, but if you’re a good manager with a good team, you ought to be able to address them,” Turner said.

See here for the background. We’ll be hearing from the avalanche of Mayoral candidates what they think about the city’s budget situation soon enough, since it will be theirs to deal with beginning next year. I’m a big fan of fixing and upgrading sidewalks, and of maintaining drainage ditches, so those things look good to me in this budget. We need to attack the 2004 revenue cap, we need to implement a trash fee to ensure proper and stable solid waste management services, and we need to work on electing a better state government that sees its mission as helping cities thrive rather than try to strangle them. I very much hope that in eight years’ time we’ll have made some real progress on those things.

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16 Responses to City passes Mayor Turner’s final budget

  1. Well, I’d rather Mayor Turner / City of Houston use that ARPA money to help fund core city services rather than just giving it away like Harris County often does. To name a few, Harris County Commissioners Court recently gave away $20.5 million (free income – “Uplift Harris” program), $26 million (free childcare), and $7 million (free legal services for undocumented migrants and renters).

    In a couple of months, after all these county giveaways, Judge Hidalgo is going to tell us she needs to raise our Harris County property taxes because there just isn’t enough money left to fund essential county services (e.g. our hospitals, courts, police, jail, infrastructure, flood control, roads). This will be despite record high Harris County government revenue due to higher property appraisals. As a local taxpayer, I wish our elected officials would focus more on our core needs instead of their welfare giveaway “investments” (their usual euphemism for more wasteful spending).

  2. Manny says:

    The Early REACH program approved by Harris County Commissioners in 2022 is $26 million in funding from the American Rescue Plan Act given to the county by the federal government during the COVID-19 pandemic. Eligible families must live in the county, have children under four years old, and demonstrate financial need.

    Despite clashes between the body during discussion, Harris County Commissioners approved a guaranteed income pilot program that will provide selected low-income families and individuals living below the poverty line $500 a month for up to 18 months. The multi-million dollar program named “Uplift Harris” totals around $20.5 million from federal funding in the American Rescue Plan Act operated by the Harris County Public Health Department.

    Tuesday’s vote makes Harris County the first county in the state to adopt a guaranteed income program. A number of Texas cities, including Austin and San Antonio, have already adopted similar income initiatives.

    Never underestimate the ability of the fascist party members to throw in the “Undocumented.”

    What percentage of the people get legal aid are undocumented, Greg? If any?

    I would suggest you expand your reading habits.

    Should they tell the federal government no thanks take your money back?

  3. Manny, ARPA money can be used to cover all COVID expenditures and/or to offset the negative economic impacts of COVID. Harris County could use its’ ARPA funds on our impacted hospitals, court operations, county jail, first responders, buy new vehicles/ambulances, improve our infrastructure (e.g. water, sewer, broadband), etc. The City of Houston is using a large portion of their ARPA funds to cover some of their core budget needs. Harris County doesn’t have to just give that ARPA money away.

    As far as the $20.5 million dollar “Uplift Harris” pilot program, it will reportedly give 1,500 households $500 a month for 18 months (no strings attached). According to my math, only $13.5 million of the $20.5 million is being given away (1,500 X $500 X 18 = $13.5 million). I heard the other $7 million dollars is going to be used to cover “administrative costs”. If true, that’s crazy. So, it’s going to cost us $7 million dollars to give away $13.5 million? Geez.

    As far as using the word “undocumented”, I think that is actually the correct terminology (Judge Hidalgo referenced them as the “undocumented community” – see Newsweek article link below). Instead of undocumented immigrants, Republicans usually refer to them as “illegal aliens”.

    So, how much has Harris County taxpayers spent on providing free legal services to undocumented immigrants? Through the Immigrant Legal Services Fund set up by Judge Hidalgo, Harris County has spent at least $2.5 million dollars to provide free legal services to immigrants facing deportation (see link below). If all those folks were properly documented, they probably wouldn’t be facing deportation.

    Anyway, if Commissioners Court intends to raise our property taxes later this year, they shouldn’t be giving away our ARPA funds. That money should instead be used to help balance our county budget.

  4. C.L. says:

    I guess the folks at (who posted the below story) and Lina Hidalgo can be considered fascists then…

    “Some undocumented immigrants in Texas could see monthly checks of $500 for a year and a half as part of a new county program aimed at assisting families living in poverty.

    On Tuesday, a pilot program offering monthly cash payments to low-income residents in Harris County, which includes Houston, passed with a 4-1 vote. The universal basic income program, also known as the Uplift Harris program, allocates $20.5 million from the American Rescue Plan Act to 1,400 to 1,600 families who would receive $500 per month for 18 months.

    During the vote, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, an advocate for the program, said the payments would go to residents of the “10 poorest neighborhoods” in the county, including people in “the undocumented community.”

    “Can the undocumented community apply? If the county attorney says they can, they will. If the county attorney says they can’t, they won’t. What I was told is they can,” Hidalgo said, adding that participants would not be limited regarding what the money could be spent on.

  5. Manny says:

    Did either one of you read the article and understand it? MAY, a big May.

    She was probably asked a question and rather than lie, like Republicans, and say NO, she answered as best she could they may depending if the County determined that they could.

    Media likes to create controversy, and fools like to promote it.

  6. Manny says:

    2 million for help with deportation hearings is money well spent. If Texas or the United States want to help stop illegal immigration they would do what they promised when Reagan signed the Amnesty Bill. Make E Verify mandatory for everyone.

  7. Manny says:

    As to Newsweek, it is getting there as a fascist mouth piece, from the Daily Beast

    WHERE KUSH GETS HIS NEWS(WEEK): Media observers have recently noted how Newsweek, once The Daily Beast’s partner publication, has lurched further and further rightward in its editorial voice. Confider has learned that readers can at least partly thank Trump adviser Jared Kushner, who, according to two people with direct knowledge of the matter, has maintained a cozy relationship with the outlet. Throughout his father-in-law’s presidency, people familiar with the matter said, Kush often sought positive story placement, frequently talked as an unnamed source, and, where politically expedient, granted access to the White House

    Newsweek CEO Dev Pragad is believed to have helped foster the relationship. Meanwhile, under conservative firebrand Josh Hammer, who once caused a staff revolt over a racist birther op-ed, the outlet’s opinion page has seemingly gone off the deep end, publishing far-right “Pizzagate” conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec and MAGA diehard Charlie Kirk, whose utterings have become fodder for generic news write-ups at the outlet. “News organizations are in contact with White House advisers as a matter of course, and our coverage of the Trump administration speaks for itself,” wrote a representative for Newsweek. “Our Opinion section also reflects our commitment to offering views and voices from across the spectrum, as our mission statement says.” Kushner didn’t immediately respond to Confider’s requests for comment.

  8. Manny, I don’t know if the $500 monthly giveaway program will include undocumented immigrants. I never said it would. Since you implied that the use of the word “undocumented” was somehow fascist, I just pointed out that Judge Hidalgo also refers to that community as “undocumented”.

    Anyway, as far as media bias, Newsweek is actually rated close to the center (it is considered relatively balanced – see link below). That independent media bias rating was updated last month.

  9. Manny says:

    The word is unnecessary. It is a whistle for the racists in this country.

    I don’t think we should allow illegal immigration, but that is beside the point.

    Undocumented was at the top of the Newsweek article. That was on purpose.

    The media, but primarily right-wing media are master manipulators; they create controversies to sell stories or clicks.

    I, apologize.

  10. The word was only used because I was thinking about the Harris County Immigrant Legal Services Fund (that free giveaway program is specifically for the undocumented immigrant community facing deportation). Since you didn’t know that, no apology is necessary. Of course, you could give the word “fascist” a break.

    The ultra-right-wing and radical-left-wing folks never apologize for anything. I’m going to make a moderate Democrat out of you yet!

  11. Manny says:

    I will when the Fascists give the Libs a break.

    Labels mean a lot if the fascist label can stick, it will hurt the right-wing extremists.

    So who is a moderate?

    Fiscal conservative – √

    Socially – √ don’t give a shit about what people are or who they date.

    Strong dislike for Trump and Trump lovers – √

    I have yet to see any government or agency of a government that was 100% efficient. Police agencies tend to be the worse; a lot of wasteful spending with no paperwork to verify spending. They keep low-performing employees, and it is almost impossible to fire any of them.

    Since Houston residents DO NOT GET COUNTY POLICE PROTECTION, it would not bother me if they did away with the sheriff and constable. They would save a lot of money there.

    FYI, I have two retired HPD brothers and two nephews, HPD and Constable.

  12. That’s a lot of cops in the family. Are you sure you aren’t a Republican (ha, ha)?

    It looks like we both don’t like the government wasting our taxpayer money. Back on topic, I just don’t want our county officials giving away our ARPA funds and then, in a couple of months, voting to raise our property taxes.

  13. J says:

    The current right wing movement that has now veered into outright fascism began with Republican talk radio rallying conservatives around the perennial talking point of ‘they are giving our hard-earned taxpayer money to the ********(people of color)’. It isn’t any wonder that our local R moderate has begun regurgitating this line when there is a chance to run down Judge Hidalgo while he is at it.
    The city and county are going to have to direct resources to poor communities in order to improve their circumstances anyway. This kind of direct income program has been shown to be beneficial, but Republicans sure do hate it, because some of the money will be going to non-whites.

  14. C.L. says:

    J, re: “This kind of direct income program has been shown to be beneficial”.

    Can you provide some empirical data to substantiate the claim that giving away free money ($500/mo for 12-18 mos) to undocumented residents (who could be of any ‘color’, and presumably for asylum applications or to protest deportation) for legal services is beneficial to anyone save for those on the receiving end of same ?

  15. J says:

    C. L., what I can find is that undocumented immigrants contribute more to public benefit programs than they take out. So presumably a program that helps them to stay benefits everyone in that regard. No Republican wants anyone to know this.

    “Both documented and undocumented immigrants pay more into public benefit programs than they take out. According to Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, undocumented immigrants contribute an estimated $11.74 billion to state and local economies each year. However, undocumented immigrants are not eligible for many of the federal or state benefits that their tax dollars help fund.”

    “Additionally, a few states have completed studies demonstrating that immigrants pay more in taxes than they receive in government services and benefits. A study in Arizona found that the state’s immigrants generate $2.4 billion in tax revenue per year, which more than offsets the $1.4 billion in their use of benefit programs. Another study in Florida estimated that, on a per capita basis, immigrants in the state pay nearly $1,500 more in taxes per capita than they receive in public benefits.“

    I will point out that $500 is a pitiful amount when it comes to paying a lawyer.

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