Mayor uses Fearmongering Argument to take the Safeties off the budget and soak the taxpayers

In Local

By Mike Morris ( That is the message the mayor has pushed in the days following the release of a study on the Houston Police Department’s operations that showed the understaffed agency ignored 20,000 cases with workable leads last year. “We need more police officers. The only way we can have more police officers is to have more tax revenue to pay for them,” Parker said. “It’s really easy to say, ‘Well, the government should spend less money.’ We’ve been funding the police department by one of the most efficient, effective uses of resources anywhere to get us to today. I can’t fund the Houston Police Department with less money.” Unless voters adjust the revenue cap, soaring property appraisals are expected to force a cut in the property tax rate next year, carving millions of dollars from the city budget in the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2015. The cap limits the growth in city revenues to the combined rates of inflation and population growth. As a result, Houston faces a projected $142 million gap between expected revenues and expenses in its general fund next summer, a figure that tops the $137 million shortfall the city had to close during the economic recession, when Parker laid off 776 workers. As Parker prepares to ask voters to reconsider the revenue cap next year – in May at the earliest, or perhaps November – the staffing study is an obvious tool. Political observers are split, however, on how effective a tool it will be in the political brawl ahead. Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said the coming revenue cap fight gives Parker an opportunity to direct focus on the department’s funding needs and away from the study’s less helpful findings, such as the piles of unworked burglary, theft and assault cases. “The most effective argument the mayor can have is that these funds are needed to improve public safety in Houston, because that’s probably the one issue you can get the most people to support,” Jones said. “The idea that lifting the revenue cap is needed to keep Houston safe is a more effective message for the mayor.” A political document Further revelations of trouble at HPD could foil that approach, Jones said, enabling opponents to say the management – not a lack of resources – is the problem. Critics already can claim mismanagement, University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus said. The staffing study alone, he said, will not be enough to sway voters to amend the revenue cap, in part because city leaders have handled the study’s release in a way that makes it appear they were unaware of the problems previously, despite Parker and Police Chief Charles McClelland’s statements to the contrary. “It still can be effective,” Rottinghaus said, “but the problem is her opponents and people who would argue against raising the cap can easily say, ‘This shows you’re a bad manager and, therefore, we shouldn’t give you options to spend more of our money.’ ” McClelland stressed the report never was meant to be a political document. “That was not the intent of the work demands analysis, to answer political questions of how the city should pay for additional resources for HPD,” he said. “It was to help identify the resources that’s needed for this agency in the responsibilities it has of keeping the fourth-largest city in America safe.” Soak the taxpayers? Small-government advocate Paul Bettencourt, who helped pass the cap a decade ago, said the measure was intended to force city leaders to set priorities. Exploiting the staffing study, he said, shows they have not. “It’s a tactic they’re going to use, but it’s not the truth,” Bettencourt said. “The fact is, the mayor was there as a City Council member when the caps were proposed, she was there as controller when they were passed, and she’s now there as mayor. Instead of making the decisions on priorities, she’s basically saying, ‘Take all the safeties off the budget and soak the taxpayers.’ ” City Councilman C.O. Bradford, a former police chief, said he does not support raising the cap without more work to find savings in all city departments. “You cannot show me in that work demands analysis where it said the $5 billion operating budget for the city of Houston requires more money. It doesn’t say that,” Bradford said. “It says we need more police officers, not more money. I’m not willing to make that big hop yet because we haven’t done the necessary groundwork to support ‘more money.'” Councilman Stephen Costello, who chairs the council’s budget committee, agreed. The police staffing study cautioned against rushing to hire more officers without ensuring no police are doing jobs civilians could do, he said, adding the study examined only part of the department. “You can’t just use one work demands analysis that’s not totally complete to justify raising the cap to bring in more police officers,” Costello said. Read more:

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