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Archive for April 24th, 2017

Votes and Pensions

Early Vote in Person starts today for the HISD Proposition 1 election and the Bingo Lodge on Beall Street in the Heights won’t be open. Oh, well! Back to Moody Park.

Ok, quickly! The ‘Stros are 13-6. Is our won/loss record better at home or on the road?

Happy 40th Birthday to Carlos Beltran! Enjoy the off day!

The Chron’s Mike Morris had an article that came out this past weekend on a possible ballot measure on pensions for H-Town voters to consider this November. Here is how the Morris article starts:

Voters soon could decide whether to close Houston’s traditional pension plans to new employees after political activists submitted a petition to City Hall to force a referendum this November.

The petition further complicates Mayor Sylvester Turner’s efforts to pass a pension reform bill, which already had hit a hurdle in the state Senate this week on precisely the same issue of whether new hires should be put into “defined contribution” plans similar to 401(k)s instead of one of the city’s three employee pension systems.

The petition, which began circulating at college campuses, grocery stores and elsewhere in February, calls for a public vote to require a shift to defined contribution plans for all city workers hired after the start of 2018.

Here is more from the article:

Houston Republican Sen. Joan Huffman ended weeks of negotiations with city officials, union leaders and conservatives over whether and how to incorporate defined contributions plans by releasing a new draft of the pension bill Wednesday. It said the city and workers could agree to move to a defined contribution plan, but did not require that change.

In response, Sen. Paul Bettencourt, another Houston Republican, said he would propose an amendment to ensure the result of any city charter change to defined contribution plans would be binding. That wording is necessary, he and others said, because some lawyers say amending the city charter alone would be insufficient, since Houston’s pensions are controlled by state statute.

“I’m just trying to stay on a public policy position I’ve had for over a decade,” Bettencourt said, adding that he is not working with Megaphone or Texans for Local Control and that he already had filed a separate bill mirroring the language of his amendment.

The Houston reform bill had been expected to reach a Senate vote Thursday, but Bettencourt’s amendment created an impasse: some bill supporters, led by the chamber’s Democrats, were unwilling to let the item come to a vote, fearing they lacked the votes to torpedo Bettencourt’s proposal.

“If he brings it up, (Huffman) says she won’t accept it, but she’s going to need about five or six Republicans to go with us to block it,” said Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston. “That’s a tough vote for them.”

Turner accused Bettencourt of seeking to kill the pension reform proposal for political gain.

“Quite frankly, what he wants is not a pension resolution. It seems like he’s asking for a re-vote of the mayoral race in 2015, and that’s unfortunate because he’s not putting Houston first,” Turner said. Bettencourt in 2015 supported mayoral runner-up Bill King, who has spent months publicly criticizing Turner’s pension reform plan and calling for a switch to defined contribution plans for new city workers.

“I don’t care whether you’re Democrat, Republican, conservative or liberal, what’s in the best interest of Houstonians is the pension reform solution that we’ve put forth that has a strong consensus,” Turner said.

Bettencourt said his stance is about policy, not politics, and said there were votes aligned against Turner’s pension proposal before he started pushing his amendment.

Conservative activists reinforce the partisanship of the issue.

The Kingwood Tea Party, for instance, last week called for an “emphatic no” on Huffman’s latest draft, saying GOP senators who support the measure would be funding the “Houston Democrat Political Machine.” The ultra-conservative Empower Texans group also views the bill as too “union friendly.”

Huffman said she sees no easy fix for the standoff in the Senate, with just five weeks left in the legislative session.

“I’ll continue to try to get something out of here that’s a good bill,” she said, “but it’s going to be kind of a wait and see situation – until we run out of time.”

Here is the entire Morris read: http://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/politics/houston/article/Group-submits-petitions-calling-for-charter-vote-11090668.php?cmpid=btfpm

A few takes on this from Commentary.   Expect the folks over at City Hall to do their best to make sure the signatures are legit if you know what I mean.   Also expect some legal maneuvering on behalf of the employee groups on the issue of voters like you and me having the right to determine employee benefits.

Even though this ballot measure only covers new hires, the employee groups will oppose. Folks will then start asking questions like how many of the employees actually live in the city and get to cast a ballot.

The Mayor’s legislative strategy was to get a pension reform deal with the employee groups and take it to the legislature and voila. It hasn’t turned out that way – yet. Do you think there might a compromise of sorts out there to explore?

As far as a revote of the 2015 race goes, I don’t know if I would bring that up.   There are a number of “extremist” Ted Cruz allies in both the state senate and state house that you don’t want to get worked up.

Here is what Kuffer said today about the Morris article:

I found this story so annoying that I had a hard time putting my thoughts together about it. So I’m just going to say these four things for now:

  1. We have already had an election on this question, in 2015 when Sylvester Turner won the Mayor’s race. A lot of people, led by Mayor Turner, have put in a ton of work, including political work, to put forth a workable solution for the city’s pension issues. You can feel however you want about the Mayor’s proposal – the firefighters are certainly not very happy about it – but it represents a Houston solution to a Houston problem, which the voters have already had a say on. These efforts to undermine it are the opposite of that, and the people pushing it are doing so because they don’t like the solution Houston and Mayor Turner have crafted for its problem. They would rather see the whole effort fail, and that is what they are working for.
  2. You have to admire the shamelessness in calling this group that has come out of nowhere and is in no way complementary to the Turner plan “Texans for Local Control”. Who wants to bet that it’s funded by a bunch of rich conservative activists who are mostly not from Houston and will go to court to keep their identities secret?
  3. The story quotes HPOU President Ray Hunt as saying the petition collection effort is a “sham” and that they have evidence of people signing the petitions multiple times. You’d think that would be a big deal, but then you remember that the Supreme Court ruled in the mandamus that forced the HERO vote in 2015 that the city secretary could only check that a signature belonged to a registered voter. It’s OK if it’s forged – the city secretary is not empowered to check that – as long as the forgery in question belongs to a valid voter.
  4. There sure could be a lot of referenda on the ballot this November.

I think it is kind of unrealistic to think folks would sit on the sidelines during this pension reform debate. That is not how it ever works. Stay tuned for sure!

The fella who used to advise the city on pensions is opposed to the current pension deal. Here is a part of his letter to the Chron that was published yesterday:

Regarding “City’s pension solution is economic justice issue” (Page A17, Wednesday), first, the so called “pension solution” is not a solution at all. The assertion that “this compromise proposal will bring sustainable change to the city of Houston’s budget …” is obviously false. In fact, there is no change to the city of Houston’s unsustainable budget for pension expense. To be specific, the budgeted pension expense prior to Mayor Sylvester Turner’s proposal was in excess of 30 percent of payroll, which was deemed to be unsustainable by various knowledgeable financial analysts. The city’s budgeted pension expense after the mayor’s proposal remains in excess of 30 percent of payroll. How can 30-plus percent of payroll suddenly become sustainable?

Real pension reform and economic justice can be achieved if the city’s budgeted pension expense were reduced to no more than 20 percent of payroll and the city’s taxpayers were not subjected to the financial risks being imposed on them by politicians who are not accountable for those financial risks and who are unduly influenced by the pension plan beneficiaries with an inherent incentive to capture maximum reward for themselves without regard to the financial risk borne by the taxpayers.

Craig Mason, The Woodlands, former chief pension executive, city of Houston

I don’t think this fella is revoting the 2015 election.

Pasadena voters are also voting today and yesterday the Chron E-Board made an endorsement in the Pasadena mayoral contest. I can’t recall when was the last time the Chron endorsed in a Pasadena mayoral race. Here is from the E-Board:

Pasadena Mayor Johnny Isbell, about three years ago, had police officers boot from chambers a councilmember in the middle of her speech excoriating an unconstitutional redistricting scheme.

Voters can serve up a healthy dose of poetic justice by replacing Isbell with that councilmember – Pat Van Houte.

And:

Of the five candidates who met with the Chronicle editorial board – two declined – only Van Houte was willing to bluntly and accurately diagnose the challenges facing Harris County’s second-largest city. Legacies of favoritism, opacity and, yes, discrimination continue to hamper progress at Pasadena’s City Hall. A petrochemical boom is driving growth all across east Harris County, yet Pasadena remains constrained by a political leadership that, as Judge Lee H. Rosenthal wrote in her recent opinion, has denied equal opportunity to all of its citizens.

Plenty of Pasadena residents certainly won’t enjoy reading Rosenthal’s words. Every other mayoral candidate preferred to pick up the pom-poms and cheer on the city’s blue-skies future. But discrimination is like a cancer that can fester beneath the friendly surface of civil society, from a road plan that ignores Hispanic neighborhoods to a redistricting scheme intentionally designed to disenfranchise Hispanic voters. Structural discrimination won’t go away by ignoring it. Pasadena needs a mayor who is willing to confront these challenges. Chemotherapy is never pleasant.

Here is the entire endorsement: http://www.houstonchronicle.com/opinion/editorials/article/For-Pasadena-mayor-11090719.php.

On the HISD Proposition 1, the E-Board now wants you to vote yes and not no like they recommended last fall – got it?   I don’t know why they didn’t listen to HISD Trustee Anna Eastman back then. The E-Board also endorsed Prop 1 yesterday and here is how they start out their take:

We don’t like going back on our word – it’s all we’ve got, and we do our best to give it to you straight. But new circumstances surrounding school finance in Texas, particularly as they apply to the Houston Independent School District, require us to take back an earlier recommendation we made to allow HISD to “purchase attendance credits.”

The arcane ballot language may have you already scratching your head. It sheds little light on the issue, but bear with us. This issue is important to Houston’s students and your tax bill.

In November, we urged HISD voters to cast ballots AGAINST purchasing attendance credits, and voters agreed.

Now, HISD voters are being asked to come back to the polls on May 6 to respond to the same question, and no doubt are wondering why.

The answer is dizzyingly complex, but the choice is simple. In November we urged you to hold your nose and vote AGAINST on Proposition 1. On May 6, we urge you to hold your nose and vote FOR. Early voting begins Monday and ends May 2.

Here is the entire take: http://www.houstonchronicle.com/opinion/editorials/article/Vote-FOR-Prop-1-11090717.php.

Commentary has said before that the folks who run the Texans are not smarter than the rest of us. Here is what the Chron’s John McClain put out this past weekend:

Despite the local and national buzz about the Texans possibly selecting a quarterback in the first round, general manager Rick Smith said there is a chance they might not draft one at all.

And he said it with a straight face.

Sort of.

In his annual state-of-the-Texans predraft news conference, Smith admitted they would acquire a third quarterback behind Tom Savage and Brandon Weeden but didn’t disclosed by what route – free agent, trade or undrafted free agent.

“I think it’s a good quarterback class,” Smith said. “I don’t feel any pressure (to draft one). At some point, we’re going to add a quarterback.”

The Texans have the 25th overall pick.

Oh yeah! Sure buddy! We are set at the QB position, don’t you think?

The ‘Stros are 7-4 at The Yard and 6-2 on the road of course.

Let me thank those who are getting out to The Yard to support the team. If you haven’t been out to a game yet, you are missing out on watching a team that is living up to the preseason expectations.   Think about checking out the A’s this weekend and for sure the Rangers next Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

We have the day off.

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