HARRIS COUNTY, Texas - The deadline to pass the budget is quickly approaching, and Harris County Commissioner Republicans Jack Cagle and Tom Ramsey, boycotted a meeting to vote on the measure, because they don't support the added expense.
Without a quorum, commissioners court is prevented by state law, from considering the measure.
"All they have to do is fill one of these chairs," said a clearly exasperated Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo. "They could abstain, or they could vote 'no', they don't even have to vote 'yes'."
The accepted message is that Cagle's and Ramsey's votes are not needed to pass the budget.
"They are passionately killing these budgets," says Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia. "They are, in effect, going to wipe out massive increases that we had on the proposed budget."
To illustrate the point, Hidalgo used the meeting to list each county department's additional funding that was in jeopardy, while directors of county flood control and healthcare, among others, outlined a variety of services that could be curtailed.
In statements, Commissioner Cagle explained his absence, saying in part, "Now is not the time for local government to take advantage of inflated property appraisals to pay for an expanded government footprint."
Ramsey, whose offer to attend the vote in exchange for a $20 million dollar commitment for law enforcement, was rejected, says, "I’m not against spending money. I’m for using it properly, not wasting it...and I will continue to represent you with those priorities."
Commissioners Ellis, Garcia, and Judge Hidalgo insist they are not wasting anything, because like household budgets facing inflation, costs are going up for vital services.
"Harris County has grown by 200,000, almost a quarter of a million people, in three years," says Judge Hidalgo. "Obviously, we have to keep up with demand for services."
Without the vote, the county is stuck with a 'no new revenue' budget that keeps funding at current levels. Hidalgo says there is a narrow window, of about a week, where there's a possibility of negotiation to strike a new deal.