Council adopts its budget for next year

Might be the last easy budget for a couple of years.


The Houston City Council agreed to boost funding for after-school programs, add cameras to catch illegal dumpers and give $1 million to each district council office to spend on projects for their constituents during a marathon session Wednesday to approve Mayor Annise Parker’s $5.2 billion budget.

The budget was approved in a 14-3 vote that followed council members slogging through 63 amendments they and their colleagues had proposed to Parker’s spending plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Council members interested in new programs bested those interested in controlling spending, despite ample discussion of the deficits looming in the coming years.

Parker said council’s decisions concern her, given the warnings of trouble ahead, and said some “naivete” exists around the table on budgeting.

“Council members were clearly in a mood to spend rather than save,” she said. “They see the economy, they see things are picking up. They also see a lot of needs and they want to respond to those needs, and it’s very hard to say, ‘But we have a rainy day down the road, you need to put some money aside for that.'”


The largest amendment passed Wednesday was Councilman C.O. Bradford’s idea to give each of the 11 district council members $1 million to spend on local issues, from mowing overgrown lots to fixing sidewalks to razing dangerous buildings.

“I don’t want this splashed around the media as a slush fund. That’s not what it is,” said district Councilwoman Ellen Cohen, who supported the amendment. “This is discretionary funds we can use in our district to expedite some of the issues. I have 80 civic clubs in my district. I promise you I hear from all of them what they need.”

The $11 million will be drawn partly from money that would have been saved for next year in Parker’s budget, and partly from the city’s capital spending plan, which comes to a vote soon. Parker said council members’ spending requests from the funds, to be legal under the City Charter, will need her approval. Expenditures topping $50,000 will need council approval, as with all other city spending.

Next year is when some deferred debts kick in and we have to deal with them, which will be a whole lot of no fun for the whole family. The money that Council chose to spend via their amendments has a lot of merit to it, and it wouldn’t have made that much difference for next year if they had chosen to bank it all instead. But it would have made some difference, and when we’re dealing with this next year we’ll feel like every little bit helps. As such, I fully expect the 14 Council members that supported this budget to not only support but also advocate for repealing the revenue cap so that they won’t be artificially and recklessly constrained by that poor decision ten years ago. It would be mighty inconsistent to support more spending now followed by needlessly maximal cuts later. We’ll know who tries to have it both ways soon enough.

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5 Responses to Council adopts its budget for next year

  1. Steven Houston says:

    For the last few years, Houston has reaped a great deal of “extra” revenue and will continue to do so into the foreseeable future, even with the cap in place. Knowing full well that the tough choices are quickly headed this way, most of Council opts to continue spending on frills. THAT is why so many are frustrated with city spending; the more they are given, the more they will spend not on priorities but on pet projects designed to make them look good to local constituents. This is not anything new but when the plug gets pulled altogether from the after school programs (which should be funded by the overflowing ISD coffers by the way), the camera programs, and all the other frills on top of the upcoming layoffs, the finger pointing will be all the more irritating.

    Personally, I think hiring dozens more people without the long term funding to keep their positions funded is cruel. People move here to take such jobs and will likely be spending a fair amount of time on the clock looking for a new job before their year is up, maybe someone will be kind enough to tell them at their hiring that revenue cap or not, budget pressures are going to sink their position due to previous juggling of city finances though it is unlikely.

    And yes, if it were up to me, the tens of millions of additional dollars would go largely toward debt reduction rather than feel good programs that sound good but have no lasting impact. I know that would piss off my fire and police friends out there who are either engaging in contract negotiations or about to do so but frankly, there is a need for some constraint that doesn’t rely on the tried and tested solution has always used in the past of “screw the employee” with benefit cuts and layoffs. Maybe a city ordinance tying council and mayoral pay to the city’s financial health might be in order…

  2. Noel Freeman says:

    The mayor and Council salaries are tied to state district judge pay by State law. They have no power to change their pay structure, even if they wanted to.

  3. Mike Sullivan says:

    Noel: You are correct in that mayor and city council salaries are tied to judicial salaries, BUT any council member or mayor may elect to take LESS in salary. They only need to write a memo to Omar Reid and Anna Russell.

    It is well known that Michael Berry turned down his city council salary his first term. Council Member Anne Clutterbuck refused to accept a increase in salary while she was in office. Others have done the same. The list goes on.

    Thank you.

  4. Steven Houston says:

    I’m with Mike on this one. My tongue in cheek point was that the city lacks a means of making elected officials share the pain they cause so maybe when the legislature is in session, it can correct that oversight for cities larger than 2 million in population, like they carve out exceptions for other things. Tie that to any legislation the city wants passed and see if it makes a difference in how they act.

  5. At least City Council does some actual WORK. If anyone needs to be giving their salaries back to the American People, it’s Congress. They spend more time calling donors than they do working to improve our nation.

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