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Revenue cap will stay in place

Boo, hiss.

BagOfMoney

Houston voters will not be given the option this fall of passing a property tax hike after a City Council committee on Thursday unanimously recommended leaving the city’s much-maligned revenue cap alone.

[…]

The topic has received less attention recently, however, as projections show the cap will mean a projected $24 million less is available to spend in the next budget compared to current one. That is significantly less than the $63 million deficit City Council must close by the new fiscal year July 1, and the even larger deficits projected in the following years.

City finance officials project the revenue cap will allow the city to collect $39 million more in property taxes for the upcoming budget year than it collected in the current one. However, they said, contractual costs – not including staff salaries or the delivery of services – will increase by $58 million, led by rising pension and debt payments.

Still, council members, led by C.O. Bradford, Oliver Pennington and Stephen Costello, said they cannot support asking the public to pay more when they cannot justify to voters all the ways the city spends money today. Only once the city’s budget problems push parks and libraries to close, Costello said, will voters consider a change.

So I guess we need to destroy the city – or at least the city’s budget – in order to save it. I’m sorry, but that’s not good leadership. What it sounds like is a rationalization by some Council members that didn’t want to put this to a vote, but didn’t want to admit that they didn’t want to put it to a vote, either. It’s also fiscally irresponsible, as Council’s hands will continue to be needlessly tied as it deals with the upcoming shortfalls. Funny, considering how much we’re going to be hearing about “fiscal responsibility” from the squadron of Mayoral candidates, that being willing to do what it takes to be able to pay all of our bills is so easily shunted aside. Sorry, but I’m not going to be letting this go anytime soon. The Chron editorial board has more.

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6 Comments

  1. Paul kubosh says:

    Maybe there can be a group of citizens who can get together and get signatures and put it on the ballot to repeal it. Surely there is some progressive out there willing to fund such an effort. Clearly the problem the city has is not a spending problem its a revenue problem.

  2. Jules says:

    It is a spending problem.

    They must have more money coming in than ever before. I know the property tax on my house has never been higher. And all that money from the Rain Tax, I’ve heard 40% is used to pay for stuff the general fund used to pay for.

    Stop all of this 380 nonsense for a start.

    It’s time for some fiscal responsibility.

  3. Paul kubosh says:

    Maybe we should get some of that tiers money?

  4. Ross says:

    Paul, what spending would you eliminate? Keep in mind the City has shortchanged pensions for years, and that’s catching up, and the cost of health insurance is still going up faster than inflation.

  5. Steven Houston says:

    The city has both a spending and a revenue problem. When times are good, it spends like a drunken sailor on shore leave while when times are bad, it makes hugely expensive mistakes that hang around its neck for years. I know PK was kidding in the first comment given his past objections but I tend to agree with him to a point that the only time elected city leaders get serious about spending wisely is after a crunch is inevitable.

    I look at the city budget from time to time and listen to the council meetings as a hobby. I know, that classifies me as someone without a life, but given how many on Council treat the position as a part time stepping stone and are unwilling to invest the time needed to keep up with events, I can’t help but believe they are often putting us on at times.

    It is a well known adage in Houston that the city always manages to find the money for any project it supports and always manages to find a way to kill any project it is against. Sometimes this means playing with the numbers to make them add up to what you want, like many of those green projects discussed awhile back. Other times, it means finding a back door for throwing money at a campaign contributor in a no bid contract because said contributor helps write the specifications for a desired program to exclude all competition. There are books written about it all over the place, suffice it to say that claiming all city spending is scrubbed of cronyism or the best use of such funds is laughable at best.

    On the other hand, costs in key areas have gone up, such as healthcare. Given the city has repeatedly pushed employees into HMO style organizations of questionable merit for decades now, I feel confident that any savings in the area would just come on the backs of employees, the care so weak now that any further short term savings will just cost much more in long term costs. Most costs derive from employees so any program to save money will need to reduce the number of workers either by cutting city services or farming them out to a cheaper supplier, preferably with someone else picking up the tab. Needless to say, employees in such positions won’t like it nor will whomever is supposed to pay for it, such is life.

    The city made a big deal about defining core services last fall, public utilities and public safety the biggest winners of the outcome. Aside from the fact that HFD still don’t have a pay contract and still have their pensions left intact, the city is looking at potentially scraping it’s 5 year capital improvement plan altogether to pay for the new Justice Complex while also under advisement that the police want to hire hundreds and hundreds more officers and support staff. Given budget realities, even removing the revenue cap would not fix the core services portion of the problem.

    To truly make a difference, elected officials and city division leaders should be forced to re-prioritize to what amounts to what people really want and let the chips fall where they may. That might mean scrapping most enforcement of low level drug cases by street officers to write a ticket as allowed by state law or to contract out fire services to surrounding communities in outlying areas (Willowbrook, Barket Cypress, Lake Houston, Clear Lake). It would also mean getting away from looking at response times as a key measure of efficiency for either group, move to fire suppression using a truck driver meeting up with those in ambulances or similar vans as some of the surrounding communities do now (80% of HFD work involves the need for more ambulances, not fire trucks; use people as needed with equipment provided for them when fires do occur).

    Noting that many libraries remain all but empty on certain days or during certain hours, change the schedules to best use them, the same for other city offices, streamline as much to automated services as possible or contract out as possible. Scrap big project plans for the next mayor to handle, perhaps listening to people like PK who are in the city courts every day to know they might not be optimal but they are “do-able” for now. Scrap the 380 programs that merely shuffle existing workers from one location to another and close down the TIRZ’s if possible, start charging them for basic city services if not (when the bills come in, they will volunteer to close).

    So while many bemoan this program or that, the bottom line is that cuts will have to be made and in wholesale fashion so let constituencies offer to take a smaller piece of the pie or simply chop their programs off for a few years to see how compliant they are in round two. Lastly, as it came up that all city department leaders are not protected by contracts, including various political appointees, cut their salary to that of their highest level subordinate who is under contract or demote them. The savings will be small but it would be a morale booster to see those who are always first at the table to eat finally wait until everyone else has had a chance.

  6. Jules says:

    Yes, let’s also get rid of all the TIRZ’s, however we can do that.

    And roll back all the raises Parker handed out to her top people. Remember when City Attorney Feldman had to get a raise to stay because of HERO? And then he had to leave because of HERO?

    Even though audits cost money, all of the 380’s need to be audited. Did you know that the Ainbinder 380 has been completely paid off this fiscal year, at a cost of $6.7M even though only $1.7M was allocated in this year’s budget? Where did that extra $5M come from and how many other 380’s had an extra $5M paid on them this year?

    Get rid of Andy Icken and his whole department. Economic Development did not make the cut of core services.