Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

October 9th, 2002:

Budget fantasies exist at all levels

What do you do when you’re a budget director who’s just received a revenue estimate that will force painful cuts in already-reduced services? Well, if you’re the City of Houston’s Finance and Administration Department director, you increase the revenue estimate, of course.

When Municipal Courts Director Barbara Sudhoff turned in her 2003 revenue predictions to the city this spring, she estimated the courts would produce about $43 million. But with the flick of a pen, [Finance and Administration Department director Phil] Scheps increased that estimate to $48 million, and thus was born a deficit.

Scheps said he and others expected more money from parking and traffic tickets. But the city also was facing a tight 2003 budget, in which library hours were cut and city health services barely escaped being slashed.

By boosting the courts’ revenue estimate, Scheps was able to avoid worse cuts. But changing the estimate didn’t change the reality, and the courts are coming up short for the third year in a row.

Council members are exasperated by the repeat problem. They blame budget officials for their rosy projections and the courts for not bringing in enough money.

“First it was police officers weren’t writing tickets,” said Councilwoman Annise Parker. “Then officers weren’t showing up in court. We kept expecting it to get better, and it never did.”

All I can say is that I’m grateful that so far no one has found a way to blame this on Bill Clinton.

MEC Day Two Report

So far the strangest thing I’ve seen at MEC this year is at my hotel, the Hilton Anaheim. For reasons that are unclear to me, there is always at least one uniformed hotel staffer whose job it is to hold the door open. Why they haven’t invested in a doorstop I can’t rightly say.

On the other hand, given the keynote speech I attended today, it’s nice to see a situation where automation has not yet replaced human workers. The Microsoft VP who spoke to us today talked at some length about how the latest version of Exchange is going to help them and their customers consolidate servers and reduce the number of staff needed to support them. IT has officially morphed from “investment” to “cost center”, folks. Don’t pin too much hope on it as an engine for economic growth in the immediate future.

It’s a good thing that most of the sessions don’t take the full 75 minutes they’re allotted. My attention span is no more than 60 minutes under the best of circumstances. Thankfully, there’s a well-established tradition here of getting up and leaving when you want to.

Feds to intervene in Burdine retrial

A federal judge will rule whether or not Calvin Burdine, the Texas death row inmate who was granted a new trial on appeal because his original lawyer slept through much of the case, gets to retain the attorney who won him the new trial.

State judge Joan Huffman has ruled that Burdine, an indigent defendant, is not entitled to the lawyer of his choice. Personally, I can’t see what the harm is if the guy’s working pro bono, which the lawyer whom Huffman did appoint is doing. Unfortunately, I suspect that the right thing is to throw out the state rule, which the federal judge will be reluctant to do and which will cause a hue and cry among conservatives if he does. I say this is a unique case that touches on a big part of the reason why people are justifiably skeptical about the death penalty and that we really owe it to everyone involved to do it right. If that means trashing a rule that doesn’t properly deal with a situation like this, then so be it. Send the Lege a message that they have work to do.