Houston could be forced to make big cuts if spending vs. revenue problem unsolved

Lileana Pearson Image
Thursday, May 18, 2023
Big cuts in the future if Houston doesn't figure out spending
The latest proposal is outpacing the current budget by an additional $500,000, but cuts could be possible if the city doesn't figure out spending.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Mayor Sylvester Turner released his last proposed budget as Houston's mayor. Coming in at a massive $6.2 billion, it outpaces the current budget by an additional $500,000.

Keep in mind, what we have been presented is not the final version. We won't have that until the end of June.

On Tuesday, Turner said his 629-page budget is his best work yet.

"It is a budget that in many ways is futuristic because we will be handing it off to the next mayor," Turner said.

The city's chief financial officer, Controller Chris Brown, said he sees a lot of positives in the budget. But he's not calling it futuristic.

"For the eight years in office, we have always spent more money than we have taken into revenue," Brown said.

The mayor's fix to that problem for 2024 is to eliminate the projected $160 million spending deficit by investing $160 million of COVID-19 relief funds to plug the holes in the 2024 budget. Where the COVID relief funding is going has to be decided by the end of 2024, and it must be spent by 2026. So if Houston continues to outspend its revenue after 2026, drastic cuts may be made.

"Unfortunately, two-thirds of the city budget, the general fund budget, the operating budget, is personnel," Brown said.

For example, if the city was trying to cut $200 million in spending, that would remove about 3,000 employees from the city's 15,000-person workforce.

"It becomes a very difficult situation. So we need to plan and prepare for the future, and make sure we are ready when the fiscal funds expire," Brown said.

On the other hand, assets and facilities owned by the city may have to be sold.

"It's akin to selling your furniture to pay your mortgage. Eventually, you will have nowhere to sleep," Brown said.

ABC13 reached out to Mayor Turner's office for an interview, but he was not made available to us.

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