HOUSTON -— The Houston City Council voted 15-2 to approve Mayor Sylvester Turner’s $6.2 billion budget for 2024.
Only two councilmen, Michael Kubosh and Mike Knox, voted against it.
The budget shows an increase of $379.2 million (excluding transfers) from the 2023 budget of $5.8 billion.
$120 million in spending is allotted for pay increases to all city employee groups, including a 3 percent increase for police and municipal employees, a 6 percent increase for fire department employees, as well as $42.9 million for the Maintenance Renewal and Replacement fund ($11.3 million of this is from reallocating funds in the budget).
The concern regarding the increased budget is the “operating deficit” included––the portion of spending in the budget that recurring funding cannot fill. The city has run on budgets with deficits for the past eight years, relying on non-recurring funds (drawing from savings, selling government land or capital assets, and COVID-19 federal relief funds) to cover holes of anywhere from $160 million to $200 million.
City of Houston controller Chris Brown compared this practice to “a homeowner selling furniture to pay for a mortgage,” concluding that “these practices are unsustainable.”
Brown backed his concerns by compiling trends from previous years. His office projects that the general fund expenditures will increase by 4.32 percent, outpacing recurring revenues, which are predicted to increase by only 2.86 percent.
As Mayor Turner has reached his term limit, the consequences of the 2024 budget will be passed on to the next mayor.
Texans for Fiscal Responsibility Executive Director Jeramy Kitchen told Texas Scorecard:
“Proposing a budget that operates in a deficit is never fiscally responsible and only continues the terrible practice of leaving taxpayers to shoulder the burden. Left unchecked, that burden will only grow larger, stifle prosperity for future generations, and ultimately translate to higher taxes.”
Thus, the next mayor will be forced to fill the budget deficits with the finite COVID-19 relief funds and city fund balance––and should those be depleted, it would necessitate selling more land and letting go of large amounts of city employees.
“The fiscal situation in the City of Houston has been alarming for some time now. As Texas’ largest city, it has a sizeable and concerning amount of debt already in bonds and other liabilities,” continued Kitchen. “Houston-area taxpayers should demand better from their local elected officials.”