Houston’s 3 pension systems ‘all on the same page,’ mayor says

Silvester Turner

HOUSTON – All three of Houston’s pension systems for city employees are behind a reform plan put forth by Mayor Sylvester Turner last month, he announced Monday.

Turner’s plan called for the city’s cash-strapped system, which pays pensions for police officers, firefighters and municipal workers, to be fully funded by 2046.

“Their retiree checks that they are getting today are not going down. They are not going down. I think we devised a system that is very fair. Fair to taxpayers because there is no tax rate increase in it. It’s cost neutral and fair to our employees. And it is a delicate balance. If you shift it around, it does not work,” Turner said.

In the plan, which the mayor hopes to present to the Texas Legislature next year, operating costs would be required to remain within a specified range.  If costs rise above that range, the plan would require operators to immediately determine how to reduce spending to fall back within the range.

“You have to draw a line in the sand somewhere or else they are going to keep coming back and back and back again and again,” retired Houston firefighter William Barry said.

“Today was a difficult decision. Anytime you make change it’s difficult,” David Keller, chairman of HFD Relief & Retirement Fund, said.

The plan also calls for 30-year evaluations of the plan, instead of negotiations happening every year, Turner said.

When the plan was originally pitched in September, the firefighters’ governing body was not willing to put its support behind it. Turner said the final vote in favor of the plan was 7-2.

“I’ve said to them, if there’s any attempt to unravel it, I will not support it,” Turner said. “This is the deal.”

The plan, which Turner said is budget-neutral, will be presented to the City Council on Wednesday. After approval by the council, the plan must be approved by Texas legislators.