First Look the Budget

Mayor Parker proposed her first budget as mayor.  It consists of  $4.1 billion for Houston.  Let’s take a closer look at it:

Good:
According to this Houston Chronicle article, “the mayor made good on her promise not to raise taxes, keeping the property tax rate the same in the coming fiscal year, and avoided the furloughs that have become commonplace in other major cities around the country.”  Although it might be easier to raise taxes than to comb through the budget, she kept her promises.  I commend her for this.

Also, Mayor Parker is really making an effort to close the budget gap.  She is making up a lot of this money though anticipated cuts ($22 million) and potential land sales ($40 million).  While it is possible that the city won’t see the full $62 million she is anticipating, it is also possible that she could pull this off and save us a lot of money in the process. 

Bad:
Closing the gap can’t happen only with anticipation of these future funds.  For new viewers of this blog, please read this post depicting one way to solve our budget problems.  It basically says that we need to see a breakdown of every single penny that we spend in Houston before we can determine where to cut.   Every program needs to be subject to review.  Right now, we only see audits of programs when the mayor decides to ask for one.  With no real breakdown of every program, the budget is already a failure. 

Also, Mayor Parker is cutting our $20 million rainy day fund.  She hopes it will return in 5 years.  I think this is a huge mistake.  The fund allows us the opportunity to have extra money in the event of an emergency.  The reason why we were able to recover so quickly from Hurricane Ike is because of this fund.  The state requires that cities save a certain percentage of their budget, but Mayor Parker increased this percentage when she was on city council.  She is doing away with one of the main items that made me have high hopes for her in the first place. 

Too Soon to Call it:
Something that made me pause for consideration is that Mayor Parker said that she will “audit every fee the city charges — from ambulance fees to fire fighting services to garage parking — and raise those fees accordingly.  Many of the fees, she said, have not been raised since the late 1980s.” (see article here).  Just because fees haven’t been raised in a long times doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s time for an increase.  If the fees do go up, I hope that it is based on actual costs to carry out a service rather than an increase just to close the budget gap.  It’s too soon to tell how this might impact us.

Check back often for more a more in depth look at the proposed budget as Houston City Council conducts hearings over the next month.

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