It’s the time of year when City Hall becomes solely focused on adopting a budget for the next fiscal year. This ritual of summer is one that always brings out the best and worst in Council Members and city departments.
This year, for the first time in the last several years, a severe shortage of funds has not dominated the discussion. The City is by no means flush but it is able to meet basic, immediate obligations. The severe cuts from last year, an improving Houston economy and careful monitoring by departments has allowed the process to run more smoothly.
When lay-offs are taken off the table, more interesting topics begin to emerge. Council Members will often use the opportunity to submit “budget” amendments that reflect actual policies that they advocate. In our strong Mayor form of government, a Council Member has little to no input as to what items will appear on the agenda. This is a chance for them to express their point of view.
For example, Council Member Ed Gonzalez submitted a “budget” amendment that the city move towards abolishing plastic bags in stores. Other cities have done this and the policy is sweeping across the country. But does it really belong as a budget amendment? It is one of those issues that involves serious discussions and public debate.
Council Member Helena Brown submitted an amendment to the budget that transform city government – creating a City Manager position. Wow! Again, a major policy shift that would require lots of discussion, public input and debate.
It is my believe that these type of amendments are put forth to start discussions and their is little likelihood that they will be adopted. However, it is always fun to observe.