Mayor Turner pressures lawmakers to approve Houston's pension reform

HOUSTON – Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner Wednesday urged state lawmakers to approve the city's plan for pension reform.

"This is a good deal. It is not a perfect deal," Mayor Turner remarked during Wednesday's City Council Meeting.

Turner said Gov. Greg Abbott was being briefed on Houston's pension plan Wednesday.

"The report he's being given today, which is not from anyone from the city, it is someone that he asked to come give a report from one of the institutes," Turner said. "That report is going to be favorable as far as it relates to the City of Houston, encouraging him to move forward."

While the city has sent it's proposal to the state legislature, the legislature has yet to receive a formal bill.

"The bill is being finalized by legislative council," Turner said. 

Turner said that process likely includes, tweaks here and there, but overall, the mayor once again stood behind his plan.

The mayor introduced his pension proposal last year. It covers police, fire and other city employees.

It calls for cuts from employee pension funds totaling $2.5 billion. Those cuts are intended to help shore up what's called an unfunded liability: financial obligations the city has to pensions, but does not currently have the money to fund.

"Right now, the unfunded liability is about $8 billion. That's a big number," Turner said.

What if there isn't a bill this legislative session? For starters, Turner said the unfunded liability will grow -- leading to layoffs.

"If we don't have the reform that we've put in place, that's fair and balanced, then you're going to have problems with the governing of the city," Turner said. 

Could that mean fewer firefighters and police officers?

The Houston Police Officers union weighed in on the matter.

"There are a lot of our members who are not happy about the plan because we are losing members," said Ray Hunt, president, Houston Police Officers Union. "But when we look at all the factors, we know something has to be done, so we don't become like Dallas or the next Detroit."

The Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association released a statement, which reads, in part, "Houston firefighters do not doubt the mayor's threat to cut city services, including public safety services. His threat is an urgent reminder that the city, the pension board and the legislature need to finalize Houston's pension reform immediately."

About the Author:

Emmy and Edward R. Murrow award-winning journalist. NOLA born and bred, though #HoustonStrong, with stops in Minnesota, New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut in along the way.