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Here’s the Mayor’s budget

A lot of people won’t like it, but this is what happens when you heap a big expense on top of an already tight fiscal situation.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner on Tuesday proposed to close Houston’s $179 million budget gap for the upcoming fiscal year by tapping into the city’s reserves, eliminating more than 60 vacant positions and laying off more than 300 city employees.

Turner’s proposal would reduce the overall budget of city departments by about $36 million, a figure that includes layoffs of firefighters, fire cadets and municipal workers, all of whom have received pink slips.

The mayor’s budget also would draw $116 million from the city’s reserves, which Turner said the city can afford because it will end the 2019 fiscal year with a higher-than expected general fund balance. The next fiscal year begins July 1.

Laying out the final budget proposal of his first term, Turner framed the financial plan as conservative and said his administration “scrubbed every department” in search of places to trim costs. The budget also uses a conservative projection for the amount of new property tax revenue Houston may take in, Turner said.

[…]

Turner said a large chunk of the 2.2 percent increase in general fund spending is driven by the cost of Proposition B, the voter-approved charter amendment that grants firefighters the same pay as police of corresponding rank and seniority. The raises will cost $79 million during the next budget year, Turner said.

District E Councilman Dave Martin agreed with Turner’s fiscal assessment of the budget, contending that the city has faced a challenging situation with small revenue growth projections — about 2 percent in property taxes and 1 percent across all sources — amid large added costs such as Prop B.

“We’ve been working on this for nine months, accumulating a healthy fund balance, not filling slots that were available for employment,” said Martin, who chairs the council’s Budget and Fiscal Affairs Committee.

Under Turner’s proposal, public safety — which includes the fire and police departments, the municipal courts and emergency operations — would make up about 58 percent of the general fund budget, at a cost of $1.5 billion. The fire department’s budget would increase to $558 million, a 4.5 percent boost over how much the city estimates it will spend on the department this year.

The fire department was allocated $503 million in the current budget. Total projected spending, however, has grown to about $534 million with the city covering Prop B raises retroactive to Jan. 1. Turner said the adjusted paychecks would go out Friday.

[…]

Controller Chris Brown, the city’s elected budget watchdog, said he does not feel confident that Turner has accurately projected Prop B’s cost because the mayor has yet to supply his office with financial data backing up the $79 million estimate. Brown also wants to generate his own independent figure, which he said he cannot do without certain incentive pay data.

Turner told reporters Tuesday that the city attorney, Ron Lewis, had determined the city’s interpretation of Prop B would withstand legal challenges.

Still, Brown said the city has little breathing room if a judge rules the firefighters are owed more. He noted that the budget would dip the city’s target fund balance within striking distance of the minimum level allowed by city policy. The city’s reserves must make up at least 7.5 percent of the city’s general fund budget, and the 2020 budget target would leave the balance at $171 million — 7.9 percent, $9 million above the threshold.

“What if a judge says, ‘You know what, we think that this is $100 million,’ and we need to pay immediately this additional money?” Brown said. “Where is that money coming from?”

I see on Twitter that some firefighters have highlighted the above quote from Controller Brown, while in this article Marty Lancton again complains that Mayor Turner isn’t implementing Prop B exactly the way he wants it to be implemented. Well, someone has to talk about the cost of Prop B. As for Brown, he’s just doing his job. And the possibility that the cost of Prop B could go up on a judge’s order is a good point and more than a little disturbing.

From here, the budget goes through Council, where they can propose amendments and do whatever they’re going to do with it. I’ll be very interested to see if any of the ones that voted against the layoffs have anything constructive to suggest for how to avoid, or at least reduce them. The budget vote is scheduled for June 5, so mark your calendar.

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10 Comments

  1. David Fagan says:

    “Brown also wants to generate his own independent figure, which he said he cannot do without certain incentive pay data.” Sounds like Brown is “complaining” about the same thing Marty Lancton is “complaining” about. Do they both have a point? Why doesn’t anyone want to look at this great deal the mayor has, if he’s spent all this time and effort and he has the answers, then what are they? If no one, including Brown, has the numbers for incentive pay, then are there any numbers? But the mayor says his interpretation holds up, so there HAS to be numbers, what are they and why doesn’t he share them, no one is going to agree to a used car salesman’ s word. That is nothing less than suspicious. What about this big check coming out on Friday? NO ONE knows what that is either, just some money earmarked for Jan 1 to present? He could do ANYTHING with that, part to FF’ s, part to ANYTHING else. Who is to say it will even be there? I hope it is not there. I think this mayor is a bunch of smoke and mirrors when it comes to this issue. A lot of threats to try to scare people his way, he did it to City Council, and he does it to FF’ s. The truth shall set you free, and to think this mayor Is a truth telling, non deceptive, Angel would be self deception, or that person believing this mayor is a member of Houston First, Greater Houston Partnership, or the C Club.

  2. Jules says:

    Yep, our elected controller should have the data he needs. What’s the holdup?

  3. C.L. says:

    Let’s assume for the sake of argument the Mayor and the rest of the folks in City Council really could figure out a way to afford everything associated with Prop B – FF’s get their raise, backpay, etc…. what exactly would be the upside to saying it CAN’T be done in the timeframe HFD wants and that if it is going to be implemented, budgets will be cut and layoffs will take place ? I can’t seem to figure out the political benefits to such a position…

  4. Bill_Daniels says:

    C.L.:

    Clearly, the mayor hates firefighters. What other reason could there be?

    /s

    I’ve got to say, other than his few scandals, like Darian Ward, I’ve been pretty impressed with Turner’s performance. Regarding the firefighters, Turner has been fairly up front about how things would play out, so no one can put on their surprised face now. But now, let’s just return everyone to the standard liberal playbook of the left…..Turner obviously is bigoted against the firefighter-American community. He probably got that irrational hate of firefighters from his parents.

  5. David Fagan says:

    CL , I read and reread your question and try to understand the point you were trying to make and I respect that. I do not have a response that I believe you would think fully follows your line of reason. Political benefits is definitely not a concrete or predictable subject. My opinion is the people who campaigned against proposition B, who would be Houston first, the C club, and greater Houston partnership, did not stop on the day of voting in November. Their influence over the city outweighs their population representation , as if they are Houston’s own 1%. The mayor does not make these decisions by himself , but with the help of others . Political benefits , if one would want to measure it , would be better named political advantage . The mayor and those that he represents are not stupid . To have foresight six months into the future after the election would not be unexpected . To delay any level of communication or negotiation with a labor union with the foresight of forcing a city Council into voting for or against layoffs at the last possible minute with the greatest obstacle presented, which is the budget, is a do or die strategy. Honestly, it should be respected, and expected again. The political advantage brought to the mayor and his representatives was a bargaining chip, a gun pointed at people’s jobs and positions whether it were municipal or fire. That is nothing less than manipulation, which is not illegal , but also not respected and not in good faith. Looking back, the foresight in the election time would have to be whether prop b passed, or it didn’t, and the choices to make whether it did or did not. The next hurdle would be , ignore negotiations and the union, to look forward to when layoffs would need to be made so city council would not have the advantage to delay layoffs. It was a wise move to choose two weeks before, one week for tags in the next week for the do or die strategy. Layoff people to balance the budget, there is no more time no more discussion, you gotta do it now. To try to predict the outcome the mayor would have had to pool his resources, and he’s good at doing that. That needs to be respected and observed. The bargaining chip led to negotiations which were predicted to fail, the mayor did not even want mediation. The question is, did the mayor and the people he represents expect the union to truly agree to to their terms? Which, ultimately, is: don’t show the numbers that people expect exist, and declare prop B unconstitutional. The mayor states he agrees to a 3 1/2 year phase-in , the mayor states he agrees to the unions phase in plans , but all of that is contingent on prop B being unconstitutional. Ultimately one question that I would like to have answered is what is constitutionality have to do with balancing the budget? Looking forward , determining the issues , the possible outcome of those issues, and the risk that the mayor and his constituents have calculated is a better determination of the possibilities of this issue rather than political favor or advantage. Obviously if constitutionality is hindering this whole issue from moving forward then it is the courts decision the mayor and his representatives are most concerned about. From the point of view of Houston first, the C club, and greater Houston partnership , Mayor Turner is replaceable. His political advantage or disadvantage is his own. Houston first, the C club, and greater Houston partnership will continue without him. Maybe the greatest question for him to answer is whether he will be included. The firefighters greatest advantage would be to break their pattern they have so faithfully followed. The sad part is they would be moving against principles they , and the community , most respect. That is the well-being of their brother or sister. That is the greatest disservice to this community , this city, the state, and ultimately , humanity itself.

  6. C.L. says:

    @David… so to summarize your statement, there would be no political upside or benefit ?

  7. Bill_Daniels says:

    “The political advantage brought to the mayor and his representatives was a bargaining chip, a gun pointed at people’s jobs and positions whether it were municipal or fire. That is nothing less than manipulation, which is not illegal , but also not respected and not in good faith.”

    Sounds a lot like sending out the yellow shirt brigade to polling sites. Hey, random voter, you don’t hate firefighters….DO YOU?

    FF’s chose the nuclear option. Why are they now surprised and hurt when there is a nuclear response? FF’s will have the satisfaction of knowing that other municipal employees are now collateral damage as a result of their nuke, so there’s that, I guess.

  8. David Fagan says:

    Please draw your own thoughts from what I’ve said. If a painting were to be created, and the artist died, there would be no one there to explain, or provide to you, an interpretation, or inspiration there-of. I don’t know if I’ve made my point clear or not, but I’ve provided an idea, and that’s the best I can do.

  9. Ross says:

    @David. Paragraphs. Use them. You haven’t made your point clear at all, because I don’t read giant one paragraph posts.

  10. David Fagan says:

    Thanks