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Archive for March 13th, 2015

Some Spankings

Hey, this isn’t going as planned! I am talking about last Friday’s pension deal.

The eight day old tweet again:

Teddy Schleifer @teddyschleifer • Mar 5
Mayoral race fall-out could be fascinating: Does it take wind out of sails of those running on pensions? Or, elevate their signature issue?

Duh! This ain’t going away! An E-Board take today, a Breibart mention, a letter from the Partnership, an Op-Ed today, and today’s Special Called Council Meeting. That is not exactly what they had in mind last week.

Today’s E-Board take put a spanking on the pension deal, The Mayor, The Dean, Rep. Sylvester Turner, and the H-Town City Council. The E-Board did give a shout out to State Rep. Jim Murphy. Here is today’s lead E-Board editorial:

If Mayor Annise Parker’s deal with the firefighter pension is like Advil for a brain tumor, as we said Sunday, then plans for a City Council special session might as well be a placebo (“Special council meeting called,” Page B1, Tuesday).

Four City Council members have signed a letter calling for a special meeting today, exceeding by a single signature the City Charter’s minimum requirement. Today also happens to be the filing deadline for most bills in the Texas Legislature, which currently controls Houston’s firefighter pension. So, short of a legislative miracle, whatever comes out of the special meeting isn’t likely to result in a new solution for Houston’s pension problems. And this presumes that the four council members are even able to assemble a quorum and comply with Texas’ open meeting laws, which are necessary to do public business.

City Council has had months, if not years, to draw attention to Houston’s pension challenges and work with legislators in Austin and the firefighters to hammer out a deal that puts the city’s pension obligations on a sustainable path. Instead, they’ve sat by while the mayor, state Sen. John Whitmire and state Rep. Sylvester Turner, both Democrats, have succeeded in promoting a bill that only delays the city’s payments while long-term costs continue to grow.

Parker seems content with this arrangement because it gives Houston some short-term budget flexibility and brought the intractable fire pension board to the negotiating table. Whitmire’s history of lobbying for the Houston Firefighters’ Relief and Retirement Fund should raise eyebrows about what he’s trying to sell. Turner, however, ought to know better than to promote a bill that will cost the city and firefighters $57 million more in the long run. After all, the longtime Houston politician also has thrown his weight behind a $440 million proposal to shore up the chronically underfunded retirement system for state employees. Apparently, Turner is willing to work for sustainable pensions in Austin but not Houston.

The only elected official in Austin who seems dedicated to fixing Houston’s long-term pension burden is state Rep. Jim Murphy, a Republican, who has filed a bill that would give cities direct control over their pensions. Other self-proclaimed fiscal watchdogs are nowhere to be seen.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with defined-benefit pensions as a way to compensate employees. However, future promises don’t always keep track with today’s budgets. Without careful monitoring, pension obligations can grow faster than revenue, leading either to municipal budgets devoured by pension obligations or ticking time bombs of debt. Keeping control of pension benefits out of local hands makes these problems almost inevitable.

Parker is well aware of these underlying truths and has been ringing the alarm for years about how poorly managed pensions can squeeze out other priorities, such as new equipment or employees for the Houston police and fire departments. But instead of putting up one last grand fight, our mayor has swallowed a pill to numb the pain while she waits out the rest of her final term. City Council members will put on a show of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Murphy will find himself with few allies as the sole advocate for responsible pensions. And Houston taxpayers will continue to pay the price for political promises that don’t fit with fiscal reality.

The Special Called Meeting of the Houston City Council will start at 10 am this morning.

This is from a recent Greater Houston Partnership letter to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick:

The pension crisis in Houston is the single biggest threat to our region’s growth and economic development. The business community will only support efforts to fix the real problem: Houston’s structural budget deficit driven by rapidly escalating pension and other post-retirement costs. We are opposed to any effort that would amount to more patchwork: we need a real solution and we need it now.

There are two bills in Austin that bear directly on this critical issue. One bill would give us the power to fix the pensions by giving Texas cities local control of their retirement systems. The other bill would make Houston’s pension deficit worse by reducing payments into the already underfunded retirement systems.

And:

We strongly urge you to help Houstonians and all Texans by strongly encouraging Senator (Joan) Huffman to author and champion the companion local control bill to Rep. Jim Murphy’s bill (HB 2608). The State Affairs Committee should not consider any legislation that would codify the “no deal deal” announced by Mayor Annise Parker.

And this is from the end of an Op-Ed in today’s Chron from the Texas Public Policy Foundation:

The only small-but-important change made would be to give communities back some say over a system they already pay taxes into and are affected by on a day-to-day basis.

Local control of local retirement systems is a straightforward public policy matter. If we’re going to ask our communities to create and support local pension plans, then it’s only right that those same communities determine how they’re run. It’s time that the Legislature addressed this issue head-on and restored power back to the people.

Here is the entire Op-Ed:
http://www.chron.com/opinion/outlook/article/Legislature-s-oversight-of-firefighter-pensions-6131032.php.

Pardon me, but where is the support for the deal?

The MLB batter that drew the most walks last season will be in uniform at The Yard on Opening Day. Who am I talking about?

This came out last night:

CNN Breaking News ‏@cnnbrk 34m34 minutes ago
Dr. Nancy Snyderman is out at NBC News, @brianstelter reports: http://cnnmon.ie/1ArkiBa

This was kind of expected after her Ebola take-out incident.

Commentary has said before that any major moves on H-Town City police and court facilities ought to be left up to the next Mayor. According to today’s Chron, the Police Chief, the Municipal Courts Presiding Judge, and nearby neighbors all have issues with the idea of putting the police and courts into the Downtown Exxon building. As far as I am concerned, this from today’s Chron says it all:

Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland, one of the prospective tenants in the 45-story tower at 800 Bell, expressed concerns about the safety of having one high-rise structure potentially house the police department, fire department commanders and municipal courts operations.

“If you look at the Oklahoma City bombing, the Murrah Federal Building, there were many, many law enforcement agencies and federal agencies in that building, and one madman in one truck almost took out the entire building, and there were a lot of lives lost,” McClelland said. “Any potential terrorist attack, those types of things concern me.”

Here is the entire piece from behind the Chron paywall:
http://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/Questions-emerging-over-plans-to-move-justice-6131323.php.

Cleveland’s Carlos Santana of course led MLB with 113 walks last season.

Just a reminder! Cleveland will be here on Opening Day on April 6.

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