In wake of credit downgrade Mayor promises balanced budget, few lay-offs

- With its energy industry wounded by low prices, its huge, unfunded liability to employee unions and its self-imposed limit on raising taxes the City of Houston has been dinged with a downgrade in its credit rating and will pay more to borrow money.

"I will tell you In the absence of actions we have already taken, it probably could have been worse," said Mayor Sylvester Turner

Turner has spent the lion's share of his first three months at the helm grappling with a local government which spends more than it takes in and has a dangerous mountain of debt.

His response - a proposed budget which slices away $160 million worth of red ink through a combination of efficiencies, consolidation and what Turner calls "shared sacrifice".

Bottomline - a modest lay-off figure of just 40 city workers along with a clear message to council.

"If there are any changes that reduces the shared sacrifice that is embedded in my budget that I will propose, the layoffs will exponentially increase," said Turner.

It was a warning the Mayor repeated three more times.

Turner's stingy-by-necessity actions and across the board budget scrubbing are drawing big accolades from spending hawk Councilman Michael Kubosh.

"He's being extremely fiscally conservative. I can't tell you enough how much I appreciate that," said Kubosh.

Kubosh says he genuinely feared Houston was headed the way of Detroit, but now believes Turner has the will to engineer a reversal of fortune.

"He's reaching out to everybody. He's got relationships with the unions. He is trying to bring this thing together so we can right the ship, turn things around and I have big hopes that he is going to accomplish that," said Kubosh.

Turner says the only portion of city government he will protect from potential lay-offs is the police department.

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