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Strayhorn positions herself as budget hawk for Mayor’s race

Tuesday, January 13, 2009 by Austin Monitor

Former State Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn jumped back into the local political scene with both feet on Monday, announcing her campaign to run for Mayor of Austin. “I am running for Mayor because I love Austin,” Strayhorn said. “This community has given me a lifetime of sheer joy, and now it is time for me to give back my lifetime of experience by providing the leadership, the accountability, and the energy that I believe this city, people, and its government needs.”


The 69-year-old Strayhorn kicked off her campaign by pointing to her experience as an asset during the current downturn in the economy and criticizing the current Council for their budget decisions. “Austin needs leadership. That means passing a real budget, using real numbers and not approving a budget for this year that is $137 million more than what everyone knew would be coming in this year,” she said.


Strayhorn’s campaign staff provided documents from the City’s 2008-09 budget showing “Major Funding Sources and Major Expenditures by Fund Type”, highlighting “Net Total Available Funding” at $2,632,073,000 and “Net Total Requirements” at $2,769,114,000, for a net difference of $137,040,000.


While those numbers may have been taken from the city’s budget documents, they do not reflect year-end balances in several funds within the budget that carried over from 2007-08 to 2008-09. “As an example, Austin Energy, the city’s largest fund, appropriated $60 million from its beginning balance in FY09 to help fund its capital improvement program,” officials with the City of Austin Budget Office said in a written statement issued late Monday afternoon.


The City Council passed a balanced budget as required by law in September, with a total budget of $2.77 billion. “This $2.77 billion in appropriated expenditures was funded by current year revenue in the amount of $2.63 billion and $137 million in beginning balances. Beginning balances are generated from additional revenue and/or expenditure savings in the prior years,” officials with the Budget Office said. “The 2009 approved budget reflects a positive ending balance of all City funds of $733 million.”


Mayor Pro Tem Brewster McCracken, who will face Strayhorn in the May 9 election, blasted the former State Comptroller for ignoring the funds carried forward in the City’s various accounts. “She made a whopper of a mistake. There are 25 funds on there (the document Strayhorn provided), including the General Fund, and the General Fund shows it is balanced every year, including this year,” McCracken said. He pointed to some examples of specific funds that will have ending balances in some years but not others. “The capital improvement projects for the Convention Center show net outlays for this year. They save up money in some years and then spend them in other years,” he said. “The Waller Creek Tunnel TIF is showing a modest net increase; that’s not surprising. That’s what they’re supposed to be doing right now. It’s pretty basic budgeting.”


Current Council Member Lee Leffingwell, who may become a candidate in the race, also defended the City’s budgeting procedures. “The budget that we passed, at least on paper, was zeroed out. The Council is required to balance its budget. We can’t run a deficit,” he said. While the City Manager has asked department heads to suggest cost savings because sales tax revenues are below projected levels, Leffingwell said the amount being considered is approximately $25 million. “We included in the budget forecast…that the sales tax growth would be only 3 percent as opposed to the previous fiscal year, when it was 7.5 percent,” Leffingwell said. “Based on the first two months’ receipts this fiscal year, it’s down, that’s true. But that doesn’t mean we didn’t pass a balanced budget.”


Strayhorn has a long history in local politics before ascending to statewide elected office. She was on the AISD Board, the ACC Board, and served as Mayor from 1977 until 1983. In her speech Monday, she listed transportation, public safety, and cutting red tape as priorities but did not respond to questions about specific changes she would make if she returns to City Hall. “Today, I am telling the people of Austin why I am running for Mayor, and I’m running for Mayor because I love this city. We have months and months ahead of us, and we will be out with the people of Austin laying out precisely how we’re doing all this.”


Strayhorn did not mention the “One Tough Grandma” slogan that was prevalent during her unsuccessful 2006 run for Governor as an independent candidate.


Several local business owners have signed on to serve as co-chairs of Strayhorn’s campaign, including Gabriel Krajicek of BancVue and Charlie Tames of Jaime’s Spanish Village Restaurant. ACC Board Member Veronica Rivera, former Council Member Lowell Lebermann, and business owner and civil rights activist Dr. Bertha Means are also serving as co-chairs. Former Mayor Lee Cook is not a campaign co-chair but did attend the kick-off rally.


If elected, Strayhorn vowed to make things easier for small business owners, “instead of putting entrepreneurs through the meat grinder of endless inspections and costly mind-boggling bureaucratic red tape.”

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