Houston needs to find millions of dollars to balance the budget, yet I hardly hear any practical ideas from elected officials for doing so. When I ran for Houston City Council last year, all I heard was that Houston needs to “make changes”. Yes, that’s great but what changes?
Here’s my idea to help with the budget problem: create a sunset review process similar to the one on the state level (with a few changes). This was one of my major platform issues when I ran last year, and I think it is time to implement this in Houston. Basically the sunset plan would require EVERY city program to be researched to make sure we spend our money wisely.
Here is an example: many years ago, parking meters were placed downtown and eventually switched from coins only to credit cards. Since this change, I have heard almost nothing about parking meters. How do we know that the money we are spending on them is less than what we are actually making from them? From what I can see from the budget, we don’t know. The sunset process would require answers to questions like these. City council would have to vote each year (or every few years depending on the program) to keep the program and for changes in money allocation. This would absolutely help with the programs that city council votes on and then forgets about (like the parking meters). Also, for many of the programs, we should also get public opinions and community input – you know, listen to the public for a change.
Of course, we won’t sunset programs like HPD and HFD, but their budget should be part of the program. What would be so great about this program besides accountability is that it would take away some power from the mayor (one person) and give spread it around to all city council members (14 people – probably 15 after the Census). Currently, if the mayor does not want an item on the agenda, it will not be on the agenda. This process would require the vote for each program to be on the agenda when its time comes. City council members will also have more say in deciding the specific budget breakdown for many departments, like HPD and HFD.
Now you might be wondering how much it will cost the city to hire people to be part of this sunset process. I am not against hiring people for city jobs if their job is going to be useful. I think this would be a great use of money because I predict we will find enough money to cut in wasted areas that we could pay for the new employees while reducing the deficit. I also predict we will find employees who currently work in areas no longer needed, so we could move them to work on this process instead.
So instead of spending money on pink chairs and television sets because of funds not being allocated in the best manner, let’s start holding elected officials accountable to us. It is our tax dollars, and I, like you, would like to see where my money is being spent. If you were flabbergasted by the first sentence of this paragraph, you are not alone. For more information, please see the article about that here.