Houston City Council unanimously passed an ordinance today to allow Mayor Parker to order mandatory furloughs next year. City Controller Ronald Green said that we will probably need six or more furlough days to help balance the estimated $26 million budget gap. This will not include police, firefighters, or other “necessary” staff. Council members are expected to take the mandatory furloughs as well, but many said they will still show up for work even if they are not being paid that day. Mayor Parker is starting with a voluntary furlough plan December 11-24 that she hopes will save about $1 million this month.
I have to give Mayor Parker credit for going after the budget shortfall much more aggressively than former Mayor Bill White ever did. She knows we need to recoup this money, and I agree with many of the steps she has recently taken. (Quick update on one cost-saving measure for those who regularly read this blog: Mayor Parker significantly cut the city take-home car program by pulling many cars or by charging a fee for the use of the vehicle. See the original blog about this here: https://peckblog.com/2010/08/09/city-take-home-vehicle-program-should-drive-away/)
I don’t think anyone on City Council wanted to vote for mandatory furloughs, but at this point, furloughs might be necessary. City Council has to come up with money fast. This might be ok for now, but I hope Mayor Parker and everyone on City Council knows that the current system for our budget is not sustainable. Mayor Parker has been in the hot seat a lot lately: Houston’s finance director Michelle Mitchell stepped down, CM Anne Clutterbuck stepped down as mayor pro tem and tried to step down as chair of the Budget and Fiscal Affairs Committee (she agreed to stay on a while longer), and there have been rumors of Mayor Parker trying to create a majority gay council district after she moved the main redistricting role away from CM Mike Sullivan (he is the chair of the Special Ethics Council Governance Committee on Redistricting and Term Limits. Mayor Parker decided to move redistricting to be addressed by City Council as a whole rather than just this committee).
If Mayor Parker wants to keep her seat next year, she needs to fix the budget gap and put into place a new system to better account for our budget.