If it’s summer, it must be budget and runoff time.
By Annise D. Parker
As expected, Melissa Noriega almost won the open at-large City Council seat outright, taking 47 percent of the vote against 10 opponents in the special May 12 citywide election. A runoff is set for June 16.
Noriega, who won the lion’s share of endorsements, including the Houston Chronicle and the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, will face Roy Morales, endorsed by the conservative “C” Club. Longtime community activists will remember that caucus-endorsed Cathy Mincberg led Vince Ryan 43 percent to 27 percent in 1989 only to lose the runoff. You can still vote in the runoff if you didn’t vote May 12, and I urge you to take advantage of early voting in this important citywide election.
Summer’s here, but inside City Hall, it’s budget season. The new fiscal year, FY2008, begins July 1. By the time you read this, Mayor Bill White will have presented his proposed annual budget to City Council. If talking about municipal finance makes your eyes glaze over, stop reading now!
The City Controller’s Office does not produce the city budget. One of the mayor’s responsibilities is to present an annual budget to council. We do, however, review it and attempt to advise council on issues or areas of concern. We also certify that it is balanced and complies with the recent charter amendments limiting revenue increases. We produce our own income projections and provide independent analysis of certain budget trends in a report presented shortly after the mayor’s budget reaches council.
Start with this link to my trends report for a very high level snapshot of income and expense trends: www.houstontx.gov/controller/invest-reps/trends2007.pdf/. (This link and the next one are for the current, or FY2007, budget, but the new versions will be on the web as soon as possible.)
In a budget as complicated as Houston’s, it is very difficult to get a concise summary. Believe me, I know how hard it is to slog through the full budget. In very broad terms, the budget is divided by types of income, and, within those income categories, by general areas of expenditures. Most people focus on the General Fund (tax supported income) portion of the budget. The other major income categories are the three enterprise funds (Aviation, Convention Facilities, and Combined Utilities), Special Revenue Funds, and Debt.
Within the General Fund, the departments are grouped together by expenditure function. If you wanted to see the Fire Department budget, for instance, go to www.houstontx.gov/budget/07budadopt/index.html/, scroll to the General Fund category, find the Public Safety Departments category, and click on Fire . If you’d like to see a summary of General Fund income and expenditures, go to that same link, scroll to the General Fund category, and click on Fund Summary .
Finally, a good introduction to the budget is to look at the executive summary that the Finance and Administration director and I present to council each month. This document is called the Monthly Financial and Operations Report (MFOR). It’s a place to start before you tackle the full budget. You can easily read the entire thing.
MFORs and my Trends Report are available on the City Controllers’ webpage: www.houstontx.gov/controller/index.html/.
Annise Parker is the second-term city controller and the highest-ranking openly GLBT-elected municipal official in any of the 10 largest U.S. cities. Her website is www.houstoncontroller.org. Parker’s television program, Money Matters, airs Monday on the Municipal Channel (Time Warner Cable) at 2 and 8 a.m. and 2 and 8 p.m.