This past Wednesday, May 25th, the Houston City Council approved Mayor Sylvester Turner’s first-ever City of Houston budget by a unanimous vote.
This year’s budget discussions were completely different than they have been in years past. Unlike past budget discussions that have lasted into the early hours of the following morning, this year’s budget vote came just before noon and nearly a month ahead of the normal schedule.
Back in December of 2015, in a Forward Times Exclusive article entitled “Sylvester Turner…What Experience Looks Like,” then-candidate Turner said, “Experience is not a negative. Experience is a positive. Experience matters. Experience is what I bring to the table.”
Turner displayed that level of much-needed experience, as the City of Houston was dealing with a massive budget crisis that had crippled the City, and draped it with an overall bleak outlook for the future. Having been a legislator in the Texas House of Representatives for 26 years and working with a number of different colleagues on both sides of the aisle, Mayor Turner was able to work with his colleagues on City Council to get the budget passed in record time.
This was the earliest that the budget had been approved in the history of the City of Houston, sending a strong message to credit rating agencies that the City is focused on what is important.
“Passage of this budget sends a strong message to the credit rating agencies about the importance we are placing on City finances,” said Mayor Turner. “This was accomplished not by putting hundreds of hard-working City employees in the unemployment line or by cutting critical services that Houstonians rely on and deserve. Instead, it was done via shared sacrifice and laser fine attention to fiscal management.”
Cost increases, voter imposed revenue limitations, a broken appraisal system and the economic downturn combined to create a $160 million budget shortfall, the city’s largest fiscal challenge, since before the Great Recession when hundreds of City workers had to be laid off.
Mayor Turner’s budget eliminates that $160 million shortfall, and maintains the City of Houston’s healthy savings account. Compared to the current year’s budget, the mayor’s budget also cuts overall spending by $82 million. Library and park services were maintained and there were no layoffs of police and fire fighters. There is also funding for an additional 5 police cadet class, for a total of five classes, the most in recent memory. For the first time in years, the number of police officers at HPD has begun to increase. There will be no tax increases, minimized layoffs, no cutting of critical city services and this is the first time that the Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones (TIRZs) will be sending dollars back to the General Fund.
The budget passed with a solid vote of confidence from the entire city council, while having no tags and only fewer than fifteen amendments. This budget has streamlined operations, eliminated redundancies, and forced greater efficiencies for a returning annual savings of $36.2 million.
“Each City department, the employee unions, City Council, the Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones and various other parties worked together to identify cost savings and efficiencies while also minimizing employee layoffs and maintaining the critical services our residents rely on and deserve,” said Turner. I want to thank everyone for coming to the table to work together.”
Back in April, Mayor Turner unveiled his proposed Fiscal Year 2017 General Fund budget and very early in the budget process, he asked the members of City Council not to mess with his budget proposal, warning that even one small change could upset the delicate balance achieved as a result of shared sacrifice and put the City at risk for a credit rating downgrade.
In the spirit of working together, council heeded his request, submitting very few amendments, none of which had a budgetary impact. This also contrasts with previous years when there have been dozens of amendments put on the table.
The budget that was adopted last week is for the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2016.