Mayor Annise Parker unveiled a $4.54 billion proposed budget, including $2.08 for the General Fund (see her press release here). The General Fund is where most of the city operations are funded. Mayor Parker said about the budget that “Houston’s economy is doing much better than it was a year ago. Our job growth continues to be the envy of the rest of the nation, property values are improving, and consumer spending is on the rise. Challenges remain, but we will continue to meet them head on, making the right decisions even when they are tough.”
Let’s take a look at what we know so far:
– Over two-thirds of the General Fund will continue to be allocated to public safety.
– Does not include a property tax increase (maintains the existing property tax rate of 63.875 cents per $100 of taxable value).
– No fee increases.
– No layoffs/furloughs/ service cuts.
– Does not borrow money to pay for the pensions.
– For the most part, it is a flat budget with “with funding levels for all departments at essentially the same levels as last year – with the exception of contractual increases for pensions and increases in health benefits, fuel, electricity, and information technology costs.”
– The budget replenishes the Rainy Day Fund.
– Restoring night and weekend hours to the 311 assistance line is a waste of money. There are so many problems associated with this department. Calling 311 is often a nightmare for Houstonians. You have to call several times, and you usually have to get your neighbors to call too before anything is done. Since nothing will get done no matter what time you call, I see no need to pay for additional hours for this service until this department is more accountable to us.
– While it is definitely positive that the budget hasn’t increased this year, how do we really know if we are spending the right amount of money in the right areas? We need a better system to review and automatically remove wasteful spending and unnecessary programs. Until we have this in place, passing any budget is irresponsible. Right now it is just a guessing game.
These are just a few items that jumped out at me from reading Mayor Parker’s press release. I am sure that there will be much more to say about this in the weeks to come as the budget is scrutinized further. Unfortunately, I have a feeling that the “negative aspects” column will start to grow bigger and bigger… as will the budget once all the council members try to add more to it.