Firefighters will oppose pension reform bill

So it goes.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Hopes that Houston’s firefighter pension board might agree to a compromise set of benefit reforms and end their opposition to Mayor Sylvester Turner’s landmark reform package proved too optimistic, after the two sides passed a Thursday deadline without a deal.

It remains unclear what effect counting the firefighters as confirmed foes will have on the bills now working their way through both chambers of the Legislature.

The Houston Firefighters Relief and Retirement Fund had joined police and municipal worker groups in backing preliminary terms last fall, but did not join their counterparts in agreeing to final legislative language.

Fire pension board chairman David Keller reopened the door to an agreement in testimony before a state House committee on Monday, saying recent talks with Sen. Joan Huffman – the Houston Republican whose committee approved the reform proposal last week – had been productive and that he was “hopeful” his board could agree.

Keller acknowledged he verbally agreed to a compromise Turner offered that included more than the estimated $800 million in benefit reductions the board had approved last October but less than the nearly $1 billion in cuts currently reflected in the legislation.

After the final numbers were crunched, however, Keller said the proposal cut too deep.

Things had looked more positive for consensus earlier in the week, but these things happen. I feel like we have come along far enough that success is more likely than failure, but failure is always an option. The question I have at this point is if the Senate version of the bill makes it through, will the firefighters oppose the pension obligation bond issue, in hopes of scuttling the deal by whatever means they can? This is the part of requiring a vote that makes me nervous, precisely because it’s another opportunity for people who don’t like this plan for whatever the reason to kill it. But first we need a bill to pass in the House. Look for the arguments made by opponents there as a preview of what we may get in November.

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One Response to Firefighters will oppose pension reform bill

  1. Steve Houston says:

    Various representatives of the fire dept. spoke in favor of allowing the public vote for pension bonds, never coming out and saying it was to kill the passage but that was clearly the reasoning. Why shouldn’t they employ every legal tactic to stop passage of a deal where they’ll lose a bunch of compensation? I never see it mentioned in the Houston Chronicle or other media but the city owes their pension a ton of money too yet they aren’t getting any of the bond proceeds, the deal making much of that debt “go away” overnight. What would be ironic is if the entire package passes, then the bonds are defeated in a vote so the only portion of the cuts that take place are those for HFD. I wish them the very best given the usual suspects are all sharpening their knives under the banner of conservatism, next they’ll be excluded from the union dues measure to add insult to injury.

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