More Budget Problems

It’s official, we are broke.  The City of Houston is facing a $110 million deficit over the next two years (see article here).  I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but as I have mentioned before (see here), we need a sunset review committee to monitor our funds.  Until we know what we are spending our money on, how can we possibly know which programs are working and which ones to cut?  Here is my analysis of Mayor Parker’s handling of this crisis so far:

The Good:
She has ruled out a tax increase.  Mayor Parker seems to understand that items can be cut to save our budget rather than passing the costs off to you.  Many republicans scoffed at the idea of electing her because she is a democrat.  You might not agree with everything she will do in office, but she will look out for our money.  I say this because she already has.  Controllers don’t have as much say in the budget as you might think.  They can make recommendations and can do audits that the mayor requests, but that’s about it.  They can’t implement cost-saving measures unless it is approved by city council.  So, yes, we got into this mess while she was the controller, but it really wasn’t her fault.  As a city council member, she implemented several fiscally responsible measures such as increasing the amount in our Rainy Day fund.  Good for Mayor Parker for not resorting to raising our taxes unless she has to.

The Bad:
One plan that Mayor Parker threw out is to delay salary increases for police officers and firefighters to save other jobs in the city.  It is true that increasing anyone’s salary this year might not be able to happen; however, I worry that Mayor Parker is looking at this the wrong way.  Police officers and firefighters are necessary to our city.  Other jobs might not be.  It was just one option on the table, so she didn’t go into detail, but I really, really hope that she isn’t going to sacrifice a salary increase for necessary jobs just to keep unnecessary ones.  No one likes to lay people off, so before looking at that, we first need to see where jobs and departments can be consolidated.  Keep the hard-working employees, but they might be more useful in other capacities.  That is what a business in the private sector would do, and Houston needs to as well.  I hope Mayor Parker remembers how important police officers and firefighters are and that we still have to compete with other cities for these brave men and women.

The…I Don’t Know What to Think:
Have you ever noticed that Mayor Parker likes to throw ideas out, get everyone riled up, and then come back and say to relax because it probably won’t be that bad once it is all said and done?  Example: recently there were talks about increasing our water bill by 5% (see here).  People got mad, and Mayor Parker came back and said that it is just one of many options they are considering. 

I’m really not sure what to think about this yet.  Either she really just wants us to see that they are considering many options before making a decision, or she wants to scare us with the worst idea so that when a change is actually made, it won’t seem so bad.  Or maybe she is throwing out ideas to get a sense of the reaction from Houstonians before making a decision.  You don’t usually see elected officials throwing out so many ideas like this before making a decision.  I am a very optimistic person, so I will give her the benefit of the doubt and hope that she is just being honest with us and letting us know what they are thinking.

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