Houston, We Have A Budget…

And we didn’t have to fudge it.  

As exciting as Texas state politics have been this week, it’s important to also take a look back at events in local politics. For the City of Houston, a lot has been accomplished in the last couple of weeks. Far-removed from K-street underbelly controlling DC, or even the overt grand-standing that you find in Austin, Houston politics is on the whole a series of honest events. But that doesn’t mean municipal government lacks for excitement, or doesn’t have its fair share of fights. Houston City Council is about as diverse a government body as one may find. With a contingencies of Liberals, Conservatives and even Tea Party members holding office, Houston’s City Government feels quite reflective of the nation itself.  
But there is one critical delineation… In local government, failure is not an option. If Houston is to be a successful city, we must have a successful council. If they mess things up, Houstonians immediately know it. It also means that a city’s annual budget has to be real. Council can’t pass Continuing Resolutions, or waste constituent time and money promoting religious holidays through meaningless legislation. For a city, every dollar counts.  
That was the massive task that lay before Houston City Council on last week. They showed up to City Hall, political philosophies in tow, and worked together  past sundown. It wasn’t easy, but it was done.  
From Houston Chronicle reporter Mike Morris, here’s a summation of how the day went down…  
The roller-coaster 10-hour meeting – all but 45 minutes of which focused on Mayor Annise Parker’s budget and council members’ 60 proposed amendments to it – will require Parker to shuffle about $3.9 million in the $2.2 billion general fund budget. The rest of the city’s spending occurs in enterprise funds fed by fees and not taxes.

Parker said this year’s budget cycle has been far different from the past three, which saw the city slash spending during the recession.  

This budget we had new revenue coming in, and so there was an opportunity to set priorities for new spending,” she said. “So it was a little more difficult here at the table because we all had different ideas on how we spend that new money.”  

Among the successful amendments: A $2 million push to redeploy four ambulances shelved during the cutbacks; a $1.5 million summer jobs program for youth; $250,000 for cameras to monitor illegal dumping; and money to increase the Houston Center for Literacy’s budget from $400,000 to $500,000. Other big-ticket items, including a $3 million summer-jobs program and $1.5 million for after-school programs, were voted down. 
Houston’s Senior Citizens will be getting some tax relief as well. The city’s current tax exemption for homeowners 65 and older will rise from $70,862 to $80,000. This exemption, along with the other amendments will impact the overall budget, requiring the Mayor’s office to look for flexibility in other areas.

“I’m not going to make the cut right away… Since we all believe that the revenue will come in above our expectations, we believe we can still hit our targets even with this cut. It just means there’s less going to next year’s fund balance” Mayor Parker said. Council Member Brown went on to reiterate that this year’s budget came in with a $6 million- dollar surplus as well, confirming that the money was available to absorb the cut.

And 10 hours later, the Houston City Council adopted a $4.9 Billion- dollar budget. The first one in three years with no significant job cuts. I applaud the Mayor and Council members for their hard work. 

A city budget may lack the glamour of a raucous floor vote at the Capitol, but keeping an area as massive as Houston running is noble and necessary work indeed. Mayor Parker and City Council deserve to be lauded for it. Off the Kuff has a more timely post on the subject.