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Budget time in Houston

Houston City Council has begun the process of debating Mayor Parker’s budget for the next fiscal year by proposing 60 amendments to it.

BagOfMoney

Parker’s budget would spend $4.5 billion, including fee-supported enterprise funds such as the aviation department and utility systems, and is a 6.4 percent increase over the current fiscal year. The proposed general fund budget, supported chiefly by property and sales taxes, is $2.2 billion, an increase of 4.9 percent over the current budget, but just 2.4 percent over projected spending for the current year.

The council is expected to begin hashing out the budget next week.

The big-ticket proposals related to property tax relief for seniors, with council members Andrew Burks, C.O. Bradford and Helena Brown each offering at least one idea on the topic. Most of their amendments sought to raise Houston’s $70,862 residential property tax exemption to match Harris County’s $160,000. Affected homeowners would save $569 annually under Bradford’s most aggressive proposal, and up to $58 under his most modest.

Brown’s proposal, which would hike the city exemption in steps to match the county’s by 2019, would cost $5.7 million next year and $102 million cumulatively by 2019, City Finance Department director Kelly Dowe estimated. Those numbers likely are understated, he said, because they are based on 2012 tax data and assume no growth in appraised values.

CM Brown’s proposal would therefore cost the city an average of $16 million per year through 2019 under current appraisals. The single year total would be higher than that in 2019, probably $22 or $23 million, and would be at least that much going forward. That’s a lot of money, and though it isn’t “spending” in the way that a new program or an expansion of services is, it’s still millions of dollars being diverted from the budget. Maybe it’s a good idea, and maybe it’s something the city should do, but if you’re one of those people that likes to focus on the city’s financial situation, implementing this kind of tax cut would have a significant effect on the bottom line. I just want to make sure we’re all clear on that. By way of contrast, the most expensive new spending proposal was $3 million per year, for a summer jobs program for youth.

For a lot more detail on the budget, in particular the details of various city departments’ budgets, see the recent coverage in Houston Politics here, here, here, and here. Can anyone explain to me why none of this stuff made it into the print version of the paper, or even the houstonchronicle.com website, as far as I can tell? This is what you really need to know if you want to understand the budget.

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