It’s a big deal, though it’s hardly a done deal yet.
For the first time ever, the Houston firefighters’ pension board agreed Monday to accept benefit cuts for current workers and retirees, potentially paving the way for a solution to a 15-year-old crisis that has threatened to bust budgets and weaken the city’s financial stability.
By a 7-2 vote, the firefighters panel joined the police and municipal pension boards in agreeing to give up some benefits in exchange for certainty in a complex deal that would eliminate underfunding of Houston’s three retirement systems in 30 years.
The reform package, which Mayor Sylvester Turner heralded as a “historic turning point,” heads to City Council for approval on Wednesday, then to the Legislature, which controls city workers’ retirement benefits.
Although passage of the reform in Austin is far from a foregone conclusion, Turner was optimistic the deal would survive any legislative turbulence.
“For the first time ever, all three pension systems have been willing to work with the city in a very productive manner. We’re all on the same page and moving forward as a united front,” Turner said at a press conference. “We are closer than ever to solving what no one else has been able to solve over the last 15-plus years. The finish line is certainly within reach.”
The mayor’s declarations were firmer than those of fire pension chairman David Keller.
“I think it substantially moves it forward, but there’s still a lot of road to go,” Keller said. “It’s certainly no end. It’s kind of a beginning.”
A statement released by the fire fund after the vote called the agreement a “non-binding framework,” and no trustees elected by active or retired firefighters appeared at Turner’s press conference.
See here for the background. There’s a lot of talk later in the story about maybe filing a lawsuit over this – by Andy Taylor, of course, who has never turned down a possible payday – but the more immediate concern is about ensuring a bill passes through the Lege to ratify this. I have been of the opinion that if the city made a deal with the pension funds, the Lege will be willing to ratify it. That was under the assumption that none of the stakeholders would lobby against it, which may not be the case here. For now, though, I’ll stick with what I said up front – this is a big deal. Now it’s on Mayor Turner and the city’s lobbyists to finish it. The Mayor’s press release is here, and an easy-to-read executive summary of the changes to all three plans is here. The Urban Edge has more.