Houston Councilmembers Authorize Leaner Budget

In what was one of the fastest budget meetings in recent years — Houston Councilmembers passed the city's fiscal year 2012 budget with two members voting no. Laurie Johnson has the details.

The new leaner, more spartan budget goes into effect July 1st. City officials trimmed about $99 million from spending to bring in a general fund budget of $1.82 billion. That's down from $1.91 billion last year.

The overall budget, which includes police, fire and various enterprise funds is $4 billion.

After about four and a half hours of negotiations at the council table, Houston Mayor Annise Parker says the city's budget is now balanced.

"If revenue comes in lower than anticipated, though, we'll have to make further adjustments."

Balancing the budget is predicated upon the receipt of sales and property taxes, which can fluctuate. Of course, those revenues could come in lower or higher than projected.

Councilmember Stephen Costello chairs the budget and fiscal affairs committee.

"We are not really out of the woods, even though we did have an annual projection for five years out, which we only get once a year. And there are a number of assumptions in that projection, both on the revenue side as well as the expenditure side."

Councilmembers Mike Sullivan and Anne Clutterbuck voted against the budget. Both are considered the council's fiscal conservatives. Most of the proposed amendments to the budget were voted down or tabled for future committee analysis.

One notable exception was Costello's amendment to create a budget oversight task force, which was supported by the administration.

Costello says an outside group needs to look at the city's longterm financial problems.

"I mean, it's not just our pensions, it's not just our healthcare system, it's our debt and everything else associated with our longterm liabilities. And so I'm recommending that we support the amendment as revised by the administration. Thank you, Mayor."

"Thank you, Councilmember. And it is a thoughtful and well-done amendment."

The 16-member task force is charged with reviewing the city's long-term financial situation and developing an action plan to address all of the city's financial obligations. They are to produce their recommendations by the end of January.

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...