Balanced Budget = No Layoffs or Tax Increases
ABOVE: Mayor Sylvester Turner discussing budget proposal amongst Houston City Council Members. Photo by Andrew Schneider
Houston City Council Approves Mayor Turner’s 2019 Budget Proposal
This past Wednesday, May 30, members of Houston City Council approved Mayor Sylvester Turner’s proposed $4.9 billion municipal government operating budget for fiscal year 2019, which balances revenue and spending without new taxes or any layoffs of city workers.
“I thank council members for their support, input, passion and understanding. This is a forward-looking budget that addresses the economic uncertainties facing Houston,” said Mayor Turner. “At the same time, it upholds my priorities: public safety first and foremost, wise financial stewardship and a welcoming city that offers opportunities to everyone.”
Mayor Turner proposed a third consecutive balanced annual budget by tapping the city’s fund balance and continuing to reduce city department spending by a total of more than $80 million during the last three years. Balancing the Fiscal Year 2019 budget was also aided by huge savings from the mayor’s groundbreaking pension reform efforts. The Texas Legislature approved the mayor’s pension reforms in 2017, and voters followed through in November by overwhelmingly approving a pension bond issue, saving the city $300 million this year alone.
The budget fully funds the pension obligation, with no deferments and no one-time sales of city real estate.
The budget passed by a pretty contentious vote of 13 to 4, with Council Members Jack Christie (At-Large, Position 5), Mike Knox (At-Large, Position 1), Michael Kubosh (At-Large, Position 3) and Greg Travis (District G) casting the opposing votes.
In the midst of the dissent, Council Member Christie heavily criticized his colleagues who were in support of the Mayor Turner’s budget proposal, and then abruptly resigned as chairman of the Budget and Fiscal Affairs Committee after complaining about not being ignored. Mayor Turner quickly responded to Christie informing him that two-thirds of the proposed budget went to both police and fire and that if they “vote against this budget, you (they) are voting against police.”
Mayor Turner carved out room in the budget for five police cadet classes and three firefighter cadet classes to keep first response services strong.
Where spending is rising in parts of the budget, the changes are for salary increases that are expected from benefits negotiations with police, fire and municipal employees’ unions.
“The budget provides the foundation for addressing future challenges with a practical, balanced approach,” said Mayor Turner.
The mayor also drew attention to what is not in the budget: $70 million to $100 million to hire 500 hundred additional police officers during the next five years, the City’s 10-15% share of hurricane recovery costs that are not paid by FEMA, replenishment of the $20 million that was taken from the Budget Stabilization Fund to cover other Harvey costs, and more.
Damage from Hurricane Harvey presented the city with steep, unexpected costs.
Mayor Turner said that any plans he has to address those unexpected costs are limited by the City of Houston revenue cap that was imposed by voters in 2004, but indicates that his drive toward additional long-term financial solutions will continue on behalf of taxpayers and other residents.