Might be the last easy budget for a couple of years.
The Houston City Council agreed to boost funding for after-school programs, add cameras to catch illegal dumpers and give $1 million to each district council office to spend on projects for their constituents during a marathon session Wednesday to approve Mayor Annise Parker’s $5.2 billion budget.
The budget was approved in a 14-3 vote that followed council members slogging through 63 amendments they and their colleagues had proposed to Parker’s spending plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
Council members interested in new programs bested those interested in controlling spending, despite ample discussion of the deficits looming in the coming years.
Parker said council’s decisions concern her, given the warnings of trouble ahead, and said some “naivete” exists around the table on budgeting.
“Council members were clearly in a mood to spend rather than save,” she said. “They see the economy, they see things are picking up. They also see a lot of needs and they want to respond to those needs, and it’s very hard to say, ‘But we have a rainy day down the road, you need to put some money aside for that.'”
The largest amendment passed Wednesday was Councilman C.O. Bradford’s idea to give each of the 11 district council members $1 million to spend on local issues, from mowing overgrown lots to fixing sidewalks to razing dangerous buildings.
“I don’t want this splashed around the media as a slush fund. That’s not what it is,” said district Councilwoman Ellen Cohen, who supported the amendment. “This is discretionary funds we can use in our district to expedite some of the issues. I have 80 civic clubs in my district. I promise you I hear from all of them what they need.”
The $11 million will be drawn partly from money that would have been saved for next year in Parker’s budget, and partly from the city’s capital spending plan, which comes to a vote soon. Parker said council members’ spending requests from the funds, to be legal under the City Charter, will need her approval. Expenditures topping $50,000 will need council approval, as with all other city spending.
Next year is when some deferred debts kick in and we have to deal with them, which will be a whole lot of no fun for the whole family. The money that Council chose to spend via their amendments has a lot of merit to it, and it wouldn’t have made that much difference for next year if they had chosen to bank it all instead. But it would have made some difference, and when we’re dealing with this next year we’ll feel like every little bit helps. As such, I fully expect the 14 Council members that supported this budget to not only support but also advocate for repealing the revenue cap so that they won’t be artificially and recklessly constrained by that poor decision ten years ago. It would be mighty inconsistent to support more spending now followed by needlessly maximal cuts later. We’ll know who tries to have it both ways soon enough.