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The Chron continues to rage against the pensions

Hobby horse mounted, away we go!

There is something particularly frustrating about municipal pensions, which are funded by the city but controlled by the state. This is a recipe for disaster, which can be seen in ballooning burdens to the budget that undercut investments in our city. To her credit, Parker spent some time at the state Legislature to try to force the firefighters pension to the negotiating table. But the approach of campaign season, and the specter of attack ads, seemed to scare her away from the topic far too early. Rather than an excuse to ignore this issue, an election should be the very vehicle by which politicians bring these long-term concerns to the public. After all, no mayor will be able to accomplish any of their goals if half of the city budget is being eaten up by pension obligations, and that seems to be the direction we’re heading.


I just want to know one thing: Has everyone on the Chron’s editorial board forgotten about the two editorials they wrote in February and March that took every member of the Houston legislative delegation – including about a dozen legislators who represent at most a handful of Houston residents – to task for failing to file a bill that would address the pension issue the way they want it to be addressed? They start out in this piece recognizing that only the Legislature can do something about this, then they castigate the Mayor for the failure. What’s up with that?

One could argue that the Mayor did an insufficient job lobbying the delegation to file and push a bill. What this fails to include any mention of what exactly the Chron thinks the Mayor should have done but did not do to get the Lege to do what they want. Just as President Obama has little if any influence over Congressional Republicans to enact or even vote on legislation he wants, Mayor Parker has basically no leverage over area legislators. What would they have her do? Invite them over for tea and crumpets? Fund primary challengers against them? Hire goons to break kneecaps as needed? Tell me what strategy she should have employed, then we can talk about how well or poorly she executed said strategy. Otherwise, what are we even talking about?

Perhaps Mayor Parker did drop the ball on lobbying the Lege. Perhaps she decided that she would never get anywhere on this issue and so decided instead to pursue other issues with them rather than risk damaging existing relations over a no-win issue. Perhaps she decided that the firefighters’ pension fund wasn’t such a big honking crisis after all. As I have noted before, it is within the Chron’s capabilities to pursue answers to these questions rather than idly wonder about them on their editorial pages.

Again, it must be noted that just because the Chron considers the firefighters’ pension issue to be the Number One concern of our time doesn’t mean that it actually is. The firefighters themselves certainly argue forcefully otherwise. Whoever you agree with, the firefighters get to have a say in this as well. They’re entitled to make their case to the same legislators that the Chron wants the Mayor to browbeat. Maybe, just maybe, they have the better of the argument, or maybe they just have more direct influence over the legislators. It may be this is a fight that no Mayor could win. If so, then Mayor Parker was right to let it go, if indeed she did. Maybe the Chron should consider that possibility as well.

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One Comment

  1. Greg Wythe says:

    What’s irritating to me is that the Ed Board seems to offer up the Firefighters pension as the problem while associating the collective burden of all pensions as the proof. I never saw Annise Parker walk into our office in Austin. I did bump into Costello who mentioned that pensions was one item of several that he was discussing in a hearing while he was there. Maybe the lack of a harder sell on us was due to being a freshman member in the minority party, but still … whatever presence there was to be had from the city was negligible. The firefighters, however, did meet with us and were a presence throughout the session.

    What might help the more substantive issue, however, is to bring some data into the argument. I can’t claim that I got as deep into pensions as I wanted to during session, but the cursory look I did of the city’s budget and firefighters’ pension fund shows me two things: there’s no spiral that’s immediately obvious; and the firefighters have the best-funded pension of all the local pensions.

    Typically, when mayors say that want to bring a pension fund to the bargaining table, it’s not to give them more money or find ways to be fairer to the employees. It’s to find ways to pay less into the pension. If there’s a legitimate reason for doing so (as I believe was the case post-Lee Brown), then the numbers ought to show it. But I’ve not seen that from anyone with regard to the firefighters.