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Houston mayor: 2,200 layoffs possible if pension plan fails in Legislature

HOUSTON – Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said Wednesday that thousands of layoffs could happen if the city’s plan to rein in pension spending fails in the state Legislature.

Turner said the state bills that address Houston’s pension reform plan have made it out of preliminary committees in both bodies. He said the Senate version has been placed on the calendar, but the House version is being considered by the Calendars Committee.

“I anticipate, being very optimistic, I anticipate some action being taken probably sometime next week, which is major,” Turner said.

Turner said he has presented the council with a budget that is contingent on state lawmakers passing pension reform. If that does not pass, the budget shortfall would increase to $240 million.

“There is absolutely no way, no way, how we can balance the city’s budget without laying off police officers (and) firefighters,” Turner said. “No group of employees is going to go unscathed in this process.”

Flanked by city leaders, including Houston police Chief Art Acevedo and fire Chief Sam Peña, Turner said that he is projecting between 1,700 and 2,200 municipal workers would be laid off if the plan fails to get the go-ahead from state lawmakers.

Turner said he was still trying to determine how many of those workers would be in the Public Safety Department.

“I’m worried,” Acevedo said. “These aren’t hollow words. There’s no doubt that if pension reform is not passed, we are going to take what is already a lean police department … and we’re going to have to layoff cops.”

“Any further cuts in fire department budget is going to come from personnel,” Peña said. “That means response times are going to suffer.”

Turner and other leaders at Wednesday’s news conference asked residents to call on state lawmakers to pass the pension plan that has been agreed on by city leaders.

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