Texas Liberal

All People Matter

Houston Mayor Annise Parker Provides Public With New City Budget Themed Video Game

Houston Mayor Annise Parker has created a new video game where you can make your own City of Houston 2012 budget.

(Above–Old-time video game called Pong.)

In the Mayor’s budget game, you can adjust the various funding amounts for each city function in the budget. You can also raise property taxes and decide to refuse or accept bullish projections for other sources of revenue.

In the end, you have to balance the budget.

The City of Houston is facing a $130 million budget deficit. The city budget must be balanced by law. The budget must be passed by June 30.

Here is a schedule of the four remaining budget hearings. 

Here is the link to the budget Mayor Parker has proposed.

The Mayor’s proposed budget involves layoffs for 750 city employees, the cutting of library hours, and the closing of some city pools and community centers.

Here is a list of the pools and community centers to be cut.

It is not hard to figure that in this economy, many of these fired city employees will go years without finding a secure job with benefits.

Here is what it says on the web page for Mayor Parker’s reelection

“In Annise’s first year as mayor, her economic development initiatives helped spur private investment that will create thousands of new jobs in Houston.”

If we had money to parcel out to private concerns for jobs that might well have been created anyway, than why don’t we have money to retain the jobs of loyal city employees?

My general impression about the proposed budget is that many of the sharpest cuts are going to parks, libraries, health, and other services that are of the greatest value to Houstonians least able to take the hit.

It is frustrating that the city dog pound–The BARC shelter–is not taking any cut all. There is nothing at all these folks can do to save money?  Not even a 5% cut? It seems that the 100% funding for the dog pound is the result of the Mayor’s relentless pursuit of the dog owner vote in Houston, and not a number based on the full needs of our city.

Police and fire forces are getting no layoffs at all. And they are taking a lower percentage of cuts than many other city departments. Public safety gets 67% of our city budget.

Don’t you imagine police and fire could find a few more million to cut out of a combined budget of more than $1.1 billion?

The good thing with the budget game is that Mayor Parker is showing folks that choices have to be made.

The Mayor should have had an entry in the budget game that shows how much extra revenue we would have if we had voted to keep the red light cameras.

I bet there are people upset about pool closings who last November voted to kill the red light cameras.

Mayor Parker gives people an option to raise property taxes in the budget game. The Mayor is not raising property taxes in her budget.

Houston was a 61% Obama city in the 2008 general election. We have a Democratic mayor and a Democratic majority city council. If all we do over the years is cut—and cut the most from people least able to sustain the cuts—than just what is it we believe as Democrats, progressives, and liberals? Economic and social justice are connected.

Of course, it is not all about Mayor Parker.

For example, it would helpful if  Houston Councilman C.O.Bradford stood more strongly for the values of the Democratic party. Mr. Bradford was happy to take Democratic votes when he was the losing 2008 Democratic nominee for Harris County District Attorney in 2008.  Now Mr. Bradford appears with far-right Republican Paul Bettencourt criticizing Mayor Parker.

Mayor Parker should continue with these video games.

For one thing, they would give kids locked out of closed pools and community centers something to do over the summer.

Also, they could be used to illustrate how your home will flood if we don’t do something about chronic flooding in Houston. While folks are right to be frustrated that estimates were wrong for how much they will have to pay for the new storm water tax, the problem is real.

How about a game that shows which Houston homes will flood based on how much rain falls in our city? The flooding could then be alleviated based on the amount of funding taxpayers are willing to provide for flood relief.

As the Mayor’s budget game shows—stuff costs money. You’ve got to decide what you value and how much you are willing to pay.

(Below—Annise Parker. Photo by David Ortez)

June 13, 2011 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , ,

4 Comments »

  1. I think this is a good idea in many ways. It appeals to the gaming mentality of our youth and rather than it saying ,”See if you can do any better” I think it shows that political posturing and actual hands on policy decisions are not always that easy.

    There are so many interconnected features to politics in the policy realm that adjusting budgets to fit everything without making lots of cuts or always squaring this with increased revenues is an art and science that, at its core, takes mental prowess and not just simple bumper sticker slogans.

    Comment by lbwoodgate | June 13, 2011

  2. I had fun messing around with the budget numbers. Contrary to the mayor’s proposal, I would not rely on the nearly 25 million dollars that would come from raising the tax/revenue projections. I realize projections are a significant part of the budgeting process, but with the weakened economic situation the mayor appears overly optimistic in my opinion.

    Comment by David @ I Love My Gov | June 13, 2011

  3. Thanks for both fine comments. Nothing I can helpfully add

    Comment by Neil Aquino | June 15, 2011

  4. The Zoo is an easy one to cut.

    Note the amount of the City’s subsidy to the zoo: about $8.5 million. The Zoo banked a $13 million surplus in its last-reported fiscal year. So essentially, the Zoo took all that money from the city and put it in the bank. You could cut the City’s contribution to zero without impacting Houston Zoo operations one bit.

    And I agree with Neil on BARC. Management of that organization has been a mess. If the city is going to maintain a dog-killing factory, we can do it cheaper.

    Cuts in the police and fire departments should probably be made by salary cuts rather than layoffs, though I’m sure there are excess personnel in both agencies.

    I put in 6 percent cuts in most agencies, cut the Zoo and office of business opportunity to nil, and checked all three of the “new savings” options. I also put in bigger cuts (15%) to the mayor’s office and city council, on the grounds that they should lead by example. The controller budget also seems really high for what we get, considering that the current budget problems began under the supervision of the last city controller.

    Comment by Matt Bramanti | June 15, 2011


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