Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner used his annual message to the Greater Houston Partnership to tout the city’s economic health. The mayor talked about the work that still needs to be done as he heads into an election.
Mayors typically use the State of the City address to roll out major policy initiatives, but Turner spent much of the speech trying to make the case that he’d been a good steward of the city government and deserved another term.
“Since 2016, City Council has approved three balanced budgets, and this fourth budget will be without layoffs or deferrals, and it will fund five police cadet classes for public safety,” Turner said. The speech came just days after a judge invalidated voter-mandated raises for firefighters, passed as Proposition B, which would have required hundreds of such layoffs.
Turner cited Houston’s unemployment rate as the lowest since 1981. He also discussed the state of pension reform, saying the city’s unfunded pension liabilities have dropped to $4 billion from $8 billion when he took office.
He also praised Houston’s progress with working conditions, boosting youth summer jobs, and tech expansion.
The mayor also laid out the progress he hopes to make in the coming year. That includes paying firefighters more after a judge ruled Proposition B, the voter-approved mandate to pay firefighters on the same pay scale as police, unconstitutional.
“I’m prepared to sit down and talk with them,” said Mayor Turner. “It’s important for the city to move forward.”
The mayor emphasized the importance of protecting Houston from flooding after Harvey.
“We need a revolving fund created on the state level,” said Mayor Turner. “My hope is that the legislature will tap into its Rainy Day Fund.”
Mayor Turner also stressed ways to give Houstonians more ways to move around the increasingly traffic-clogged streets.
“People are demanding multi-modal options, and we have to give it to them,” he said.
The mayor also unveiled the “50 for 50 Effort” during his speech. It calls on 50 companies partner with 50 parks for five years to help with upkeep and bettering the surrounding neighborhoods.
Moments after Mayor Turner’s speech ended, mayoral challenger Tony Buzbee held his own ‘state of the city’ speech in a ballroom two floors below.
“Our city’s in a state of mess,” Buzbee said.
Buzbee criticized the city’s crime level and policing style. He also spotlighted Mayor Turner’s handling of issues like homelessness, illegal dumping, and trash and recycling pickup.
“We’ve gotten so used to it that it doesn’t even infuriate us anymore,” said Buzbee.
At the same time, challenger Bill King delivered a response to Mayor Turner’s address on Facebook Live.
“We’re running these deficits when we have record revenues,” said King, criticizing how the mayor handles money. “The solution is not more revenue. The solution is how we spend the money.”
King also criticized low police staffing levels and the poor condition of many Houston roads.