Council members consider unusual proposals to trim budget

June 21, 2012 4:26:39 AM PDT
City leaders are huddled for a marathon meeting about proposed changes to the city's multibillion-dollar budget. These are potentially significant decisions affecting everything from the mayor's term limits to whether you can use a plastic bag at the grocery store.

More than 100 amendments are on the table for consideration. But the good news are none of them propose large-scale layoffs.

Just outside City Hall, downtown workers tote their lunches in plastic bags -- something that could go away if one budget amendment passes.

"I think it's a good idea, it's better for the environment to use the reusable bags," downtown worker Amanda Cooper said.

The idea of phasing away plastic bags is just one of 104 amendments being considered this budget year. Councilman Ed Gonzalez says the bags turn into hard-to-get-rid-of trash.

"We spend a lot of money trying to keep our city clean and we need to see if we could make an impact on those costs," Gonzalez said.

The plastic bag proposal may seem like unusual for council members to consider, but budget cycles are a time when council members introduce unusual ideas.

"As a supporter of police and firefighters, it's not a comfortable to say 'the emperor has no clothes' but that's the reality as it stands," Councilwoman Helena Brown said.

Brown, for example, wanted council members to default on police and fire pension plans, among other suggestions. That was quickly voted down.

But other ideas did pass.

Council members could now put a proposal before voters to change term limits to two four-year terms. And the proposed pole tax of $5 for every strip club customer is scheduled for a vote next week.

"We have so much on our plate right now that some people simply can't look at everything that's being put in front of them. I have respect for that," Houston City Councilwoman Ellen Cohen said.

Council members are expected to meet a couple more times before finalizing next year's budget.


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