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Houston City Council Passes Budget, Closes $160 Million Deficit

The process went smoothly – and much quicker than in previous years.

Mayor Sylvester Turner and Mayor Pro Tem Ellen Cohen hold up a cartoon - based on a related Houston Chronicle drawing - that symbolizes the mayor fixing the city's budget problem.
Mayor Sylvester Turner and Mayor Pro Tem Ellen Cohen hold up a cartoon – based on a related Houston Chronicle drawing – that symbolizes the mayor fixing the city’s budget problem.

This has been updated from a previous version.

The $2.3 billion general fund budget closes a projected $160 million deficit.

The vote was unanimous and came only three hours after discussion started. Usually, talks take all day and often last into the night.

Mayor Sylvester Turner was excited.

“Untagged, with less than, let’s say in this case, 15 amendments being discussed around the table and a budget that was completed before noon,” he said. “I think that speaks volumes about where we are.”

He said the easy passage sends a strong message to credit rating agencies, some of which downgraded the city’s rating earlier this year. The budget was also passed a month earlier than last year.

Council members submitted a lot fewer amendments than they’ve done in the past.

Of the 23 that were on the table, council members withdrew a dozen, one failed and 10 passed, including one that raised the council district service fund to $750,000 per council member. The mayor had proposed cutting those to $250,000, but he says he’s OK with the compromise.

“Many of those dollars (are) spent on street improvements, sidewalks,” Turner said. “Many of the same things that they would have been doing, they will continue to do.”

Council member Michael Kubosh, who has been on council since 2014, voted against each of the previous budgets he was a part of.

He said the reason why he voted for it this time was Mayor Turner’s relationship with the council.

“He’s willing to listen,” Kubosh said. “He’s willing to identify the situation you’re talking about. He gets it. He can articulate your position back to you.”

The budget closes the deficit by laying off some employees, eliminating vacant positions, spreading money from local tax zones and one-time fixes.

It’s about $82 million lower than the budget of fiscal year 2016.

The new fiscal year starts in July.

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Florian Martin

Business Reporter

Florian Martin is currently the News 88.7 business reporter. Florian’s stories can frequently be heard on other public radio stations throughout Texas and on NPR nationwide. Some of them have earned him awards from Texas AP Broadcasters, the Houston Press Club, National Association of Real Estate Editors, and Public Radio...

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