27 June 2010

Houston City Council Just Keeps On Spending

Houston Chronicle: Missed opportunity
Houston City Council blew its chance to show it feels Houstonians' pain

In last week's 2011 budget deliberations, Council members missed an important opportunity to lead by example — not to mention show they live in the real world. They did so by refusing to cut their own office expenses as part of the overall budget-trimming exercise.

But when it came to their individual bailiwicks, council members just could not bring themselves to do the right thing. By an 11-3 vote, members refused to make the same cuts that they had imposed on other departments - 2 percent for most, or about $8,000 per council office.

True, 2 percent cuts would total only a little more than $110,000; a pittance in the city's multi-billion dollar budget, you might say. But that simplistic assessment misses the larger point. This was tone-deaf public relations on council's part.

The choice ignores an obvious economic reality. Given high unemployment, a significant drop in property tax revenues for the city, cuts at NASA and even the lingering effects of Hurricane Ike, these are already hard times for the people who pay the bills at City Hall - taxpayers. And more bad news for the city may be just over the horizon. A moratorium on drilling for oil and gas in the Gulf could bring job losses here numbering in the tens of thousands, resulting in hardships not seen here since the mid- to late 1980s. For FY 2011, the council mantra should be: Every dollar saved will count.

You want more tone-deaf? Along the way in last week's budget debate, council members asserted that they should be able to decide how to spend amounts left over in their council accounts as they chose. Earlier this year, Mayor Parker had stepped in, telling council members that any unused funds would revert back to the general fund.

But on Wednesday, by the same lopsided 11-3 count, they voted to force the mayor to choose at least five "core services" to which they can donate their excess.
So … they don't have the money to cut their budgets, but they're still preoccupied with what to do with what's left over?

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