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Mayor Turner’s second budget

It’s about what you’d expect.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

With pension reform in sight, Mayor Sylvester Turner on Tuesday proposed a combination of departmental cuts, one-time fixes, deferred payments and a dip into city reserves to close next year’s $123 million budget gap.

Turner aims to erase the deficit with $51 million in spending cuts – largely from police and fire overtime – $35 million in one-time revenues or deferred payments, and $38 million drawn from city reserves. The mayor said he anticipates eliminating vacant positions across departments and making fewer than 10 layoffs.

The proposed $2.38 billion general fund budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 is about $35 million more than this year’s spending plan, due in part to a $51 million spike in debt costs.

“Like anything, there are limited dollars, and I think what the public expects for us to do is to operate in a very prudent fashion,” Turner said. “I think we have submitted a budget that can at least maintain our core city services.”

The city’s budget projection is predicated on the state Legislature’s passage of Houston’s pension reform deal with a two-thirds majority and Gov. Greg Abbott’s subsequent approval, which would put the changes into effect at the start of the fiscal year.

The mayor has said the budget gap would increase to roughly $234 million without pension reform, potentially requiring hundreds of employee layoffs.

The deficit also would grow if the Legislature passes the pension bill with some of the House’s amendments attached or with less than a two-thirds majority, which would delay implementation until September.

This year’s budget is similar in nature to last year’s, and I expect that the Mayor will have little tolerance for amendments that include any new spending. I assume he has a Plan B budget in his back pocket in case the Lege doesn’t fully cooperate, and I’ll be fine with never seeing it. From here, it’s on to getting the pension obligation bonds ratified and lifting the revenue cap, which if nothing else ought to make next year’s budget a little less painful. Here’s hoping.

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19 Comments

  1. Robert Garza says:

    I hope elections are this year because Mayor Turner needs to be ousted.

  2. Joshua ben bullard says:

    He has 14 extra taxi cab Inpector’s costing a pension total of over 50 million tax payer dollars and 2 days ago Turner said 66% of the taxi business is gone.

  3. Ross says:

    14 taxi inspectors could not incur $50 million in pension expense. I doubt taxi use is down 66%.

    Next election is several years away. Turner is better than anyone else who was running.

  4. paul a kubosh says:

    Ross,

    Turner is the first Mayor trying to deal with the pension problem. Like the plan or hate the plan at least he did something. He gets my respect for that.

  5. Steve Houston says:

    I’m with PK. Since taking office the mayor has stopped major contracts not in the public interest like the airport concessions contract pushed through by Parker, accelerated street repair successfully, used every means to pass the first citywide pension reform that had a chance of working, and managed to bring various factions of many other problems to the table to get things done. Not everyone is dancing in the streets over every solution but his solutions are good enough that his biggest detractors have to resort to spreading lies to fight his efforts. That alone speaks volumes as to their credibility.

    Despite Josh’s biggest whoppers, Turner inherited the transportation issues from his predecessors and has balanced public interests against those the curmudgeon professionally lobbies for. Despite the embellishments of some employees, pension reform is moving forward, if the reforms fail due to the bonds not passing, watch what happens to them when the city lays off hundreds of those same folks. Some of the sour grapes crowd whose names won’t be mentioned have signed on to measures they initially fought too, all in all I give Turner a lot of credit despite some misgivings.

  6. Neither Here Nor There says:

    Turner is doing a damn good job he is tackling the hard problems that other mayors ignored.

  7. Paul A Kubosh says:

    I can’t believe all this agreement here. See what happens when Democrats put fiscal conservatives?

  8. Paul A Kubosh says:

    put up fiscal conservatives. Hit the submit key to quick.

  9. Neither Here Nor There says:

    Yes Paul, I agree that Turner is a fiscal conservative, but I am still puzzled why the Republican chose King who is not a fiscal conservative to support.

  10. Bill Daniels says:

    It’s not often that I get to agree with the consensus here, but…..I agree with the consensus. Turner’s not perfect, but he’s addressing long neglected issues like the streets, seeking consensus, and tackling the tough issues left by previous administrations. All in all, pretty much what he ran on. It’s been a pleasant surprise.

  11. Paul A Kubosh says:

    Neither, because he is white. Same reason they picked Parker of Locke. She was white. We all know Republicans vote on race.

  12. Jason Hochman says:

    Turner’s budget is calculated to cause pain to the people, so that they will happily slake his thirst for more money. And, if you own a house in Houston, I hope that you are socking away money to pay your taxes after Turner takes away the revenue cap. And, if you’re thinking of living on the streets, make sure that you can fit your stuff into a three foot square because Turner will come and take your tent. The deferred payments include payment for the zoo and funding for BARC, since Turner, a career politician is sure that animals don’t vote, he knows that these are safe cuts. The developers will, I’m sure, continue to do fine, but people may wise up and start moving outside the city limits. You get the government that you deserve…

  13. Ross says:

    So, Jason, I’ll ask you the same question I’ve asked others who complain about Turner. Given the amounts of money needed for pension obligations, even after the changes in the laws governing them, just what do you think should/can be eliminated from the City of Houston budget? Keep in mind that 59% of general fund expenditures go to public safety, police and fire, and that cost is more than the entire amount the City gets from property taxes. The City could eliminate the entire Parks and Recreation budget, plus the libraries, and not make a dent in the budget. Here’s a link to help you http://www.houstontx.gov/budget/17budadopt/index.html

  14. Jason Hochman says:

    Ross, you are very right,which is why I hope that people are bracing for what taxes will be in the near future. Might be time to move outside of the city.

  15. C.L. says:

    Jason, isn’t the Zoo a privately owned enterprise at this point, and has been for years ? What ‘deferred payment’ would the City be responsible for at this point ?

  16. Steve Houston says:

    Jason, the tax cap has saved less than a whopping $30 a year per household using a $200,000 home as a basis point (median price locally). So if people vote away the tax cap, taxes are not going to go up very much. On a related note, the property tax rate is slightly over 60 cents per $100, voters needed to approve of any increases above 64.5 cents, yes? The belief that moving into another city nearby or the unincorporated county is going to save money is pure fiction, the added costs for services far outweighing any imagined savings and then adding a longer commute time if you work in the city.

    CL, I thought the zoo was privately run, not privately owned. Taxpayers still subsidize the zoo around $11 million a year directly for operations but I believe the mayor wanted to defer half the budget this coming year due to the shortage.

  17. Ross says:

    Keep in mind that for those of us in HISD, the lower tax rate for schools, combined with a big homestead exemption gives us a pretty good gap below the overall rates paid by folks in the County and one of the other ISD’s that are closer to $1.50 than $1.20 for the tax rate. If I moved out of the City, my taxes would go up a bunch for the same value house, pretty much anywhere I would consider.

  18. C.L. says:

    Jason, Google it up – The Zoo is privately owned but sits on land leased from the City. That’s why we have the ‘can we or can’t we carry a gun at the Zoo’ issue in 2015… leased land.

  19. Steve Houston says:

    CL, the justification for the zoo banning guns was based on the educational programs drawing in large numbers of children. A weak argument but that was what was sold when it came up awhile back.