Houston Matters

Houston Mayoral Candidates Discuss Pensions, Infrastructure In Final Debate

Sylvester Turner and Bill King talked to Houston Matters’ Craig Cohen Tuesday.


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In their hour-long discussion with Houston Matters' Craig Cohen, Sylvester Turner and Bill King spent almost 30 minutes on city finances.

That included an exchange on the rights of firefighters compared to other groups. King said Houston firefighters receive unreasonably high pension payments and he wants to change that for new hires.

"And look, I want to sit down and talk to them," he said. "But this is about 3,800 guys, 80 percent of which live outside the city of Houston, and they don't get to dictate to 2 million people what kind of benefit we provide, especially when you're only talking about new firefighters."

Turner, who has the endorsement of the city's municipal unions, said he wants to work out a compromise with the firefighters and other city workers to address the pension issue.

"What will not work in the best interest of the city, if it's an ‘us versus them' sort of attitude," Turner said. "Nothing will take place, and the Legislature is not going to step in if we do not bring to the Legislature a consensus plan."

The Texas Legislature needs to sign off on any changes to the city's pension system. But Turner didn't offer a specific plan.

The candidates also talked about infrastructure. King prefers issuing bonds for street maintenance, which basically means borrowing money.

"And the reason you do that is because construction costs almost always go up faster than the interest that we pay on bonds," King said. "And that's why everybody in the country issues bonds."

Turner wants to continue Rebuild Houston, a pay-as-you-go fund for street and drainage repairs. On top of that, he wants to duplicate a 24-hour road maintenance program from Harris County.

"There is nothing wrong with piggybacking what the county is doing and put in a similar program in effect, or even working with the county collaboratively to get it done," Turner said.

The candidates also talked about steps against discrimination, arts funding, public safety and education.

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