Will taxpayers pick up bill in Houston's multibillion-dollar pension crisis?

Almost $8 billion owed to police, firefighters, municipal employees

By Shannan Adler

HOUSTON - The city of Houston faces a multibillion-dollar pension crisis. Firefighters, police officers and municipal workers are negotiating pension benefits while taxpayers will be left to pick up the tab if no consensus is reached.

“Ultimately, the city of Houston covers these expenses through tax revenue, through sales tax, property tax, and at the end of the day, taxpayers, in one way or another, are going to be on the hook for this," City Controller Chris Brown said.

Houston did not arrive here overnight, as the debt has been building for 17 years. Houston’s pension liability now stands at almost $8 billion owed to police, firefighters and municipal employees and is growing at a rate of more than $1 million a day, every day.

Mayor Sylvester Turner's toughest critics are the firefighters, who have the most to lose if the mayor’s plan goes through, and their dissatisfaction was on full display in Senate hearings this week.

“I don’t think that any of us are opposed to reform, but I am opposed to people going back on their word that they gave us,” Lisa Slagle, a Houston firefighter, said.

The mayor’s plan would shrink the shortfall by more than $3 billion through voluntary benefit cuts and a $1 billion bond. He warned that the city would be forced to lay off 1,800 workers next year if the current proposed bill -- a bill he insists will pass -- doesn’t get passed.

“I was a legislator for 26 years," Turner said. "Very seldom do you get a perfect bill, but you don’t sacrifice the good seeking the perfect."

 

The House is scheduled to present its pension bill on Monday. Sources said it doesn’t require a public vote, but it’s not clear it will have the provisions to satisfy firefighters.

Copyright 2017 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.