The Texas Senate is moving closer to a vote on a pension reform package for Houston city employees. The plan, put together by Mayor Sylvester Turner and approved by the Houston City Council, aims to rein in unfunded pension liabilities that have reached $10 billion, more than four times the city’s annual operating revenues.
In testimony before the Senate State Affairs Committee, Turner argued the reform plan he’d put together was the only way to meet Houston’s pension obligations to all city employees, and he warned of dire consequences if the plan fails.
“Let’s assume the worst, that we don’t get a bill,” the mayor said. “Then add another $134 million to my budget that I have to balance by the end of June. And you’re going to see a lot of people that are not going to be working, because we’re going to balance the budget.”
The committee also heard from one of the fiercest opponents of Turner’s package. David Keller chairs the board of trustees for the Houston Firefighters’ Relief and Retirement Fund. Keller said the mayor’s plan puts an undue burden on firefighters, compared to police and other city employees.
“I would ask the members of this committee whether it is fair to ask our fund, representing only 18 percent of the city’s total pension obligation, to bear more than 35 to 40 percent of the total benefit cuts. That is the real question here,” Keller said.
The next step will be a vote of the full Senate.