Biliingual pay targeted for budget cuts

June 21, 2010 3:59:48 PM PDT
Houston council members have come up with several ideas to help the city make up for a multi-million dollar shortfall, and now one of those ideas has come under fire from a local political group. The possibility of eliminating extra pay for bilingual employees has ignited a controversy. Currently, about 1,100 civilian workers earn this extra pay. Getting rid of the pay would save the city of Houston about $1 million a year -- a cost savings some say comes on the backs of minorities.

Whether it was in Spanish or in English, the message at City Hall was clear.

State Representative Anna Hernandez said, "This is an international city, an international city that prides itself on the businesses we're able to attract. Well, this sends the wrong message. It sends the message that we only do business in English."

The debate began last Wednesday when Mayor Pro-tem Anne Clutterbuck suggested getting rid of the pay to help trim the budget. Clutterbuck called the program outdated and inefficient.

"I would argue that the ability to speak another language, if that is necessary for the job, that that is just another job requirement," Clutterbuck explained.

But community leaders say the amendment sends the wrong message, with some questioning the motives of the Republican council member.

Frumencio Reyes of the Harris County Tejano Democrats said, "I see this as an affront to us as a community and certainly based on the Republican platform, she's falling right into it."

Clutterbuck has since changed her amendment to exclude those who have direct contact with the public. In a statement she says, "We're looking at a tight budget and are counting pennies to find savings everywhere we can. All of my budget amendments are designed to save the taxpayers' money."

But for civilian jailer Yury Zuniga, who currently receives the pay, she feels if the amendment passes her skills aren't being valued.

She said, "It don't matter what language it is -- Spanish, Chinese, any language -- it's really good to have someone there to translate for you."

Mayor Annise Parker issued a statement about the new language in Clutterbuck's amendment: "It addresses her budgetary concerns without hindering our ability to adequately meet the needs of our diverse population, and it reflects what has been long-standing city policy."


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