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The Chronicle is very disappointed in you, Houston delegation

Here they are throwing a hissy fit to express their deep sense of disappointment.

Just shy of 6,000 bills were filed in the Texas Legislature prior to last week’s deadline. Nearly half of those came in the usual blizzard of filing activity 72 hours prior to the Friday, March 8, witching hour.

Some of these bills were serious. Others were downright silly. Not many are likely to get a careful reading by state lawmakers, who are, understandably, overwhelmed by the sheer numbers. That’s life in Austin during the first five months of every odd-numbered year.

Shrug? Sigh? Move on? Well, no. For Houston’s sake, hell no!

Here’s a fact that should make city of Houston voters and taxpayers do a not-so-slow burn: Out of all those thousands of bills deemed by at least one lawmaker as worthy of consideration by our state Legislature, not a single one was filed to address a stubbornly serious problem facing the city of Houston and its taxpayers: the lack of local control over the city of Houston firefighters’ pension fund.


We’ve tried public shaming. But not even calling out the names of the 37 legislators who represent at least a piece of Houston in a Chronicle editorial was sufficient to stir a single one from his or her lethargy. Or is it fear?

In the past, we’ve hinted about the history of influential local lawmakers using their powers to keep pension fund business cloaked in secrecy and out of the hands of mayor and council. No doubt, that remains a factor in continuing the stalemate.

Just a few thoughts here.

1. There are fewer than 37 members that actually have Houston voters in their districts. Sorry, I’m still going to be nitpicky about that.

2. There are any number of possible reasons why no legislator took this up. Maybe they agree with the firefighters that the city has misrepresented the issue. Maybe no one actually asked them to carry a bill, and they (correctly, to my mind) chose to keep their nose out of the city’s business in the absence of such a request. Maybe they think that the city has bigger fish to fry first. Who knows?

3. You know how we could know? If some professional news-gathering organization took the time to contact each member’s office, and wrote a story about the answers they did and did not receive. I wonder what professional news-gathering organization might have the interest and the resources to undertake that kind of research and publish the result of it. I’m sure there must be one.

4. As I said before, this issue is now officially moot for the 2013 election. If you run for city office this year and you want to make an issue of this but you do not address the legislative part of it, you don’t know what you’re talking about and you ought to be ignored.

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  1. Steven Houston says:

    I’d be willing to bet that the Chronicle did indeed have someone contact them but they did not like the gist of the answers given them. The Chronicle is incredibly supportive of Parker on almost every issue, bending over backwards to give her every benefit of the doubt possible and then some. Informally, I contacted a select group of people regarding this one and the answers varied depending on how public they thought I would be as well as who they thought I was with as much as political affiliation.

    I have no doubt that the Chronicle contacted all their usual sources and many, if not all, of the legislators serving the area (using their own, admittedly flawed, list). From what I gather, my previous comments on the subject proved accurate, the state controller’s report cutting short any traditional Republican’s desire to carry forth the legislation and the longstanding support HFD has given their political allies just too much to overcome even if a problem was perceived (their union supported a variety of GOP favorites running for mayor over the years).

    On the Democrat side of the equation was, at least in the case of three I spoke with, the conscious decision to disagree with Parker based on the fact that the pension in question is so close to being funded and the overall compensation being so low compared to most. It was made crystal clear that the municipal pension was the problem by far and significant changes were going to be needed to restore it, translating into major benefit cuts within the next several years (an insider on Parker’s staff reportedly saying it would have to happen after she left office). There is no way that pension can sustain itself given funding levels and quality of investments short of massive infusion of assets that are not going to be forthcoming. The police pension is somewhere in the middle, hovering around 80% funding despite city underfunding, that question left unanswered.

    Should Parker or an ally be reading this, one thing stood out in the conversations. Everyone, regardless of political affiliation, saw the attack as retaliation or political payback. If HFD’s pension was as underfunded as the municipal pension, it would have been harder to ignore. If Parker & her representatives had not been involved in so many publicly contentious exchanges with their union and pension leaders, it might not be so obvious but it’s a dead horse for as long as she is in office as mayor. There are even tea party hack & slashers that make it clear they will stand up to such efforts, a surprising turn of events given their often contentious comments regarding any employee compensation issues.

  2. Steven – If they did contact these legislators, then I don’t understand why they didn’t write a story about it, instead of just carping from the op-ed pages. That as much as anything is the basis of my complaint. One thing I’ve learned in a decade of blogging is that I shouldn’t write about how I don’t understand why some candidate or official is doing or not doing something if it’s reasonably easy for me to simply ask them. I’ve been called on it too many times by the people I was ignorantly wondering about. I write this blog in my spare time, which is way too limited for me to undertake the task of contacting however many legislative offices and ask about this, but there’s no reason why the Chron can’t. If they did do that, they should report on it. If they didn’t, then I wish they would please spare me the hand-wringing.

  3. Bill Shirley says:

    Does the Chron have even one reporter covering the legislature?
    Do they have even one to cover the city council?

  4. Steven Houston says:

    I have been getting the impression that if someone does not virtually write an entire article for the reporter, almost all of them these days, at the Chronicle, most stories are mere rehashes of what the television media provide. I’m not talking about how piss poor the fact checking is these days either, I’m talking about the lack of almost any critical thinking being applied. I’ve been told that a story like this will have someone send a generic email out to legislators and the responses looked at just before deadline. The responses to generic emails are not going to match the kind you get by asking someone face to face or even calling them up when they are available, you may notice the plethora of “so and so was unavailable for comment” because the lazy reporter wants to cover their behind from fallout but is not allowed to work a story in depth (those days are long gone).

    Kuff, one of the reasons people like you have become so relied upon as sources of information is the failure of the media, certainly including the Chronicle, as it hemorrhages money and staffers alike. A quick tour of their building during working hours will show you more than enough to see how cutbacks also work in private sector endeavors. Still, they charge for their services and wonder why fewer people are paying; remove the ad section from the Sunday paper and watch them fold altogether.

    I’ll be the first to admit that I am biased in favor of HFD employees and their peers working for the city. They are not paid commensurate with other large cities and their benefits get worse/more expensive every year it seems. I’m told that over half the public safety employees working for the city are able to retire right now or soon, the city stuck with the bill for past hiring whether some like it or not. What has happened over the years is that any “cost” that could be swept under the rug for someone else to deal with has been, the remaining money spent on a variety of items that might arguably be lower priority (we’ve had that debate before).

    What needs to take place is for voters to understand that every service has a cost and for them to know what the cost is, both short term and long term. The $50k a tenured firefighter or cop may make each year is only part of their cost, the need to decide the basic questions of service repeatedly left unaddressed. Do we want faster response times or do we want parades? Do we want a fire department that focuses more on containment as many smaller departments allow or do we want the kind of aggressive suppression HFD engages in? The same holds true for other city functions as well. To date, no one is asking those questions and the Chronicle’s reliance on sources writing their articles for them is sad, nearly as sad of the cut & paste hack jobs from Associated Press.