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Budget amendment time

Now that Mayor Parker has formally submitted her proposed budget for fiscal year 2013, it’s time for Council members to submit their amendments for consideration. I’m going to start at the bottom of the story with the two proposals that intrigues me the most.

Two members called for a November election to amend the city’s term limits law, which forces council members, the mayor and controller from office after three two-year terms. [CM Wanda] Adams proposes two four-year terms; Councilman Andrew Burks proposes three four-year terms.

Councilman Ed Gonzalez has proposed a ban on plastic bags in Houston. Specifically, his amendment calls for the city to draw up an ordinance within a year that would phase out the use of the bags. Brownsville has banned the bags, and a ban goes into effect in Austin next year.

“We have a number of bayous, and they’re littered with plastic bottles and plastic bags,” which conservation groups spend hundreds of thousands of dollars a year removing, Gonzalez said. He referred to trees on the banks of bayous with bags snagged in their boughs as “urban Christmas trees.” He said he does not envision the city offering businesses a financial incentive to abandon plastic bags.

As you know, I don’t like term limits at all, but if we have to have them I’d rather put the limit at 12 years rather than 6, for the simple reason that I don’t think six years is enough time to really accomplish much as a Council member. As such, I’d take Burks’ proposal over Adams’, though hers is still better than the status quo. However, I would prefer even more to have six two-year terms instead of three four-year terms. My argument for having two year terms instead of four year terms can be summed up in four words: Council Member Helena Brown. Four years is an awful long time to have to wait to correct an error like that.

As for the bag ban proposal, you know I’ve been following developments around the state and wondering when Houston might get in on the act. About time for it, I say. I don’t have a strong preference for any specific approach to this, whether a ban by fiat or by imposition of a tax on bags, perhaps to be replaced later by a full on ban. As long as the city engages all the stakeholders and gives plenty of opportunity for feedback, I’m sure the end result will be fine. All of these proposals assume Mayor Parker supports them, as they are unlikely to get very far if she doesn’t. We know she’s no fan of the current term limits system, and I’ll be very surprised if she doesn’t back up her Mayor Pro Tem on this one.

Council members Stephen Costello and Wanda Adams both call for giving $160,000 to the Houston Food Bank to help it enroll more people in SNAP, the federal program formerly known as food stamps.

One of Councilman Mike Sullivan’s amendments would eliminate funding for affirmative action monitoring on city contracts. Councilman Larry Green proposes increasing it.

From Councilman Jack Christie came a fill-it-or-kill-it plan that would have Council consider eliminating any position that remains vacant for three months.

First-term Councilwoman Ellen Cohen proposed a Houston version of the so-called “pole tax” she shepherded into law as a state legislator. The state law imposed a $5 per customer fee on strip clubs to raise money for sexual assault victims.

In order:

- I approve of the Costello/Adams proposal. Ensuring children have adequate nutrition is one of the best investments you can make. It is, to coin a phrase, a big effin’ deal.

- Sullivan may have won his Republican primary last month, but between this and some of his other amendments, which include a five percent pay cut for the Mayor and Council members, I guess he isn’t finished wooing those voters. I don’t expect them to go far, and as Campos notes, his colleagues who hope to be on Council longer than Sullivan intends to be probably aren’t too thrilled by this.

- I see some merit in Christie’s proposal, but on the whole I’d prefer to err on the side of more flexibility for department heads.

- I’m a tiny bit ambivalent about Cohen’s SOB proposal. No question, clearing the rape kit backlog is a huge priority, and with the favorable resolution of the lawsuit over the state “pole tax” law (that Cohen authored), this is the obvious vehicle for that. I just feel, as I did about the state law, that sexual assault is everyone’s problem and everyone’s responsibility, and as such it feels a little pat to put the entire burden for funding these needed items on strip clubs and the like. It’s a minor quibble, not enough to make me oppose Cohen’s amendment, I just felt like someone had to say that.

There’s more proposals than just these, of varying levels of seriousness and likelihood of adoption. In addition to her pension default tomfoolery, CM Helena Brown has a variety of no-hope amendments, including one to switch the city from a strong mayor system to a city manager system. There are pros and cons to each approach, and without commenting on the merits of one system over the other, I’ll just note that this would be a ginormous, fundamental change to how we do things, and as such would need a ton of discussion and engagement culminating in a charter referendum. All things considered, it’s hard to see this as anything but another attack on the Mayor by her political enemies. Stace has more.

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4 Comments

  1. Noel Freeman says:

    Sullivan’s amendment on adjusting the salaries of the Mayor and City Council is likely DOA. Their salaries are tied to State district judge pay (by State law I believe), so Council has no authority to increase or decrease their pay. The only alternative they have is to collect the salary and then donate it back to the City.

  2. joshua bullard says:

    noel is correct,sullivans amends go no where,and i would not support his amends as well,the mayor and councils pay is right on the money-on term limits,this is how it works,term limits cant change the term of any current council member or the mayor for me to support any of it,and of course andrew c burks wants longer terms,if it was up to him they would be twenty year terms,kuffner,i suspect helena will turn the corner soon,but we shall see,,,as for the mayor,well i think so far so good this year,she is turning her second term into a better term than the first,and jack christie,i cant say enough good things about the guy,i know kuffner it scares you to elimate goverment jobs but it will be ok in the end,sometimes a smaller goverment is good….

    and for green and adams=no surprise there they want more goverment and higher taxes…

    and a big shout out to the idiot that has introduced the green link free ride service downtown houston-i swear how many times are you going to waste the taxpayers money with this “free” transportation,what is your oppseesion with wanting to chARGE the tax payers of houston millions of dollars just to give a free ride to 3 guys from the netherlands-free rides to the airport didnt work-the trolley didnt work-spend money on improving the current service and stop with all the free ride foolery.people dont get free food from the local goverment-no free movies-no free clothes-why give them a free ride 12 blocks-let them take a cab for 6$.city of houston and metro, your “free rides”are to damnn expensive…………………………

    take it
    joshuia ben bullard

  3. Houstonian says:

    Joshua, your comments are always entertaining. I have a dream….that one day, you will use punctuation.

  4. [...] the new ordinance. Just another data point to consider as Houston contemplates what to do about its plastic bag [...]

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