Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner won’t say when he’ll start laying people off to pay for firefighters’ raises. Turner’s warnings of a fiscal crisis are causing dissension in City Council about how they’re spending money.
Tensions came to a head as council debated a pair of contracts, worth a combined $61.6 million, to renovate George Bush Intercontinental Airport. Council members Dwight Boykins, Brenda Stardig, and Michael Kubosh said it looked bad that the city was spending so much – even though the money comes from airline fees, not taxes.
“This thing has ballooned up so far. Architects and design firms are just killing us, and we’re talking about laying off city workers,” said Boykins, who pushed unsuccessfully to have one of the measures pulled, in order to have a committee reexamine costs. The council ultimately approved both contracts.
Turner shot down the idea – proposed by firefighters’ union president Marty Lancton – that the city can avoid layoffs by negotiating a settlement with firefighters.
“I don’t want to have to lay off one single firefighter,” Turner said. “I don’t want to have to lay off one police officer or one person that fills the potholes. So we’re going to do everything that we can to move this city forward. But the reality also is elections have consequences.”
Turner quoted the judge who upheld Proposition B earlier this week, saying he has to follow the will of the voters.
In his decision, Judge Randy Wilson wrote, “there was testimony…that the Pay-Parity Amendment will cost the City of Houston over $100 million a year which will result in layoffs of police and degradation of city services. However, this fact was made clear during the run-up to the election and Houston voters decided 59/41 to provide pay parity notwithstanding the $100 million pricetag. While this Court is sensitive to the budget difficulties the Pay-Parity Amendment will produce, the Houston voters decided they would rather have pay parity.”