We may be voting on pension obligation bonds

Oh, boy.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

A state lawmaker carrying Houston’s pension reform bill says her version of the proposal will require a public referendum on a $1 billion cash infusion central to the negotiations, an idea Mayor Sylvester Turner called a “poison pill” that could derail the reforms and force “massive” layoffs.

The requirement that voters have a say on the $1 billion in pension obligation bonds is the brainchild of Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston. Fellow Houston Republican Sen. Joan Huffman, who is carrying the reforms in the higher chamber, said she understands the mayor’s frustration but said her bill – which still is being drafted – will not pass without the provision.

“It is a billion-dollar bond, and though it’s not new debt – it’s debt that the city owes to both the police pension fund and to the municipal pension fund – I can understand how the voters would want to have a voice in the issuance of the bonds,” Huffman said. “To get it out of the Senate, it’s a necessary addition to the bill.”

Turner’s reform plan, despite ongoing wariness from the firefighters’ pension fund, emerged from a year of negotiations in Houston with broad support from civic think-tanks, business leaders and pension experts, as well as a 16-1 endorsement from City Council.


“That is a poison pill, and you are saying you want this deal killed – and it will kill this deal,” Turner said at Wednesday’s council meeting. “If that’s the course that the Legislature chooses to take, then the Legislature must also say to people in this city – to businesses and property owners – ‘We are assuming responsibility because the state can do it better.'”

Turner also sought to spell out the consequences if the reforms fail: still-rising pension debts, an additional $134 million added to an already sizable deficit in the coming budget, and “massive layoffs” touching every city department.

Boy, between this and the Astrodome and the revenue cap and maybe another Metro referendum, not to mention the May recapture re-vote, this may wind up being a far busier election year than it would have with just the usual slate of city races on the ballot. I’ll be honest, I had thought from the beginning there would have to be a vote on the pension obligation bonds, but it turns out that’s not the case thanks to a law passed in 2003. The rationale is that this is not new debt, since the city in this case already owes the money. Be that as it may, I don’t necessarily object to voting on them, though I have to wonder once again why Houston is being singled out like this. What’s the rationale for having a vote, other than “it’s a lot of money”, which as a reminder the city already owes? Paul Bettencourt says “anytime you consider $1 billion of anything, the public should vote on it first”, but if that’s the threshold then why is there a bill to vote on $100 million of Astrodome spending? The thing about having a vote is there’s a winner and there’s a loser. If there is a vote on pension obligation bonds, who’s rooting for Yes to win, and who’s rooting for No? It would be nice to be clear about that before we go on.

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9 Responses to We may be voting on pension obligation bonds

  1. Neither Here Nor There says:

    It is singled out because Democrats run the city, it is plain Republican hate of anything that is not bear the R label.

    Republicans party before country.

  2. voter_worker says:

    If it comes to that, I’ll vote to pass the Mayor’s plan. I think you’re right, Neither. We’re going to need an online tutorial to fathom all this ballot language coming up, unless a miracle happens and it’s all put forth clearly.

  3. Paul Kubosh says:


    Whitmire a Democrat wants a vote on Astrodome bonds. How is that different?

  4. Steve Houston says:

    I’m just curious if the ballot language will spell out the consequences of turning down the Mayor’s proposal. The one still being worked on in Austin is a major step in the right direction but there have already been more people retiring in the last few months than the entire year before that, the police losing more high ranking positions of late than any other time in history. HFD is bracing for an exodus if the corridor language is not changed but the more the language is tampered with, the less likely as good a deal for the residents of the city will come to pass. That is according to Dave Martin on city council.

    In related news, Bill King’s temper sure flared the other night in Kingwood when some in the audience asked him questions. The red-faced King wasn’t able to credibly answer some basic questions and the audience was not happy with him at all…

  5. paul a kubosh says:


    First of all Welcome back. Its been a while since you posted. I was beginning to worry. Secondly, I havn’t felt or seen any negative impact from the retirements at H.P.D., have you?

  6. Neither Here Nor There says:

    Republicans are persistent liars and as far as I am unconcerned similar to Bannon in that they follow they same philosophy, Party over everything, lie, cheat, steal, if it benefits the party.

    While I used to vote Republican the election of Trump made it clear, before I had only doubts as to the extent of their Leninists’ believes. The color represents them perfectly the color of the communists, they certainly proved by quickly accepting the help of Russians of getting one of their own elected.

    What you asked is typical of Republicans, to say some Democrats do it, therefore it is the same. No it isn’t it does not even come close.

  7. Neither Here Nor There says:

    But if you don’t really know the difference Kubosh, let me point it out to you, one is old debt that does not require vote per state law.

    So it is not the same, like I said, Republicans will say anything? Don’t know if you are a Republican and it is possible that you fell for their lies. So I am clearing things up.

    As to the Astrodome, they had a vote, I voted for them to tear it down.

    Why won’t the county put their money in flood control?

    Why won’t Republicans mention the trillion a year federal debt under the Republicans, that is before they consider the wall, defense buildup, and infrastructure. In fact they are now calling it something else to

    Like the Lenin “Party Over Country”. The Red Menace in now in control in the United States.

    Below is how the so called fiscal Republicans plan to convince their voters that Black is not Black and White is not White, or that a deficit is really not a deficit.

    Republicans on the House Budget Committee are floating the idea of changing the standard of “success” for a budget. Budget vice chairman Todd Rokita (R-Ind.) has been speaking to members about ditching the 10-year-balance metric for one that focuses on a debt-to-GDP ratio. Supporters of the idea say it would paint a more accurate measure of the nation’s long-term fiscal situation anyway, as savings from entitlement reforms aren’t often realized until the second decade and beyond — not in the 10-year budget window.


  8. Steve Houston says:

    Hi PK! Thanks for the vote of confidence. As a regular, law abiding citizen who is not prone to being a victim of crime, none of the changes impact me as yet. Those waiting on police services might have a different take given that total times from call for help to help arriving have increased or followup investigations are put on the back burner longer unless a crime is “high profile” (meaning someone in power demands a faster response). Some of the shuffling of those at higher ranks has invoked how much a learning curve there can be in the field but the biggest numbers to leave will be when the law eventually passes in whatever form, if further cuts are made to accommodate citizen’s voting down the bond issue, I expect morale to sink through the floor and you will certainly see more of a difference then in both HFD and their brothers with HPD).

    Friends with HFD are taking the bond election requirement as a sign that they are safe from changes, being told by leadership that residents will turn down the bond measure which will defeat the entire proposal. Any shortages owed them by the city are the result of using a five year smoothing process combined with a few bad market years so anything that impedes cuts is just fine with them. Those in the municipal plan most able to find better work are planning to make the leap since they know they will bear the brunt of any changes made, a historically accurate observation (not that it’s fair in any fricking way, shape or form). You can mold a decent guy into being a cop and you can always find people willing to enjoy the down time offered by HFD’s 24 hour shifts, but try to find a qualified financial analyst, a certified engineer, or a GOOD administrator who are willing to work in an environment of continual cuts is largely impossible.

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