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Archive for May 1st, 2017

Pensions Again

Early Voting in Person turnout on Day 7 for the HISD Prop 1 race is in the books and here is what we have to date in some select locales.  After a week, West Gray had 1,126, West Loop 364, Palm Center 303, Sunnyside 281, Northeast 221, Hiram Clarke 200, Tracy Gee 210, Bayland 454, Ripley 86, HCC 74, Hardy 60 and Moody 182.

Pasadena is sitting at 2,198.

This is not a complaint but rather an observation. Commentary received the pro-Prop 1 mailer this past weekend. It included photos of elected officials and leaders endorsing the initiative with statements. No Latinos.

So, let’s use this tweet from this past Saturday:

Carol Alvarado‏@RepAlvarado145 22h22 hours ago

Just voted FOR @hisd Prop 1 @HISD_Supe

Name the MLB pitcher who has pitched the most innings this season?

This tweet by the Chron reporter covering the ‘Stros pretty much sums up the first month of the season

Jake Kaplan‏Verified account@jakemkaplan 15m15 minutes ago

The Astros beat the A’s, 7-2. They are 16-9. Dallas Keuchel is 5-0 with a 1.21 ERA through six starts.

Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Lisa Falkenberg had a pretty good take on pension reform yesterday and here is how it starts:

First, let me tell you the way I expected to start this column.

Mayor Sylvester Turner has been working a long and tedious 14 months with Houston police, fire and municipal employees to hammer out a solution to the city’s $8 billion pension crisis, which was 15 years in the making.

Turner has gotten farther than any previous mayor at reforms, but, after a series of challenges by conservatives, negotiations are down to the wire. Turner and his allies have only about a week left to seal the deal in the Legislature and save the city from impending doom.

And now some wise guy in the private sector thinks he can pen an 11th-hour op-ed in the Chronicle boasting of a bright idea that could better the plan, reduce risk to both employees and taxpayers, and finally end the game of chicken between supporters and critics?

I don’t think so!

Yes, that would have been the easiest thing to write. But logic is a stubborn thing.

When I talked Friday with the aforementioned wise guy, Christopher Zook, I couldn’t ignore that some of what he said made sense. “The mayor’s plan has a lot of good things, but what if it doesn’t work?” said Zook, a professional investor who serves as vice president of the influential “C” Club that promotes fiscally conservative policies. He said that his idea for an extra safety net only kicks in if a pension plan is “potentially in danger of going bankrupt.”

Here is how Falkenberg’s column ends:

I wasn’t able to confirm by late Saturday where the others stand. The mayor didn’t respond to my request for comment. On Friday, his finance director Kelly Dowe said that asking stakeholders to agree to something they haven’t seen “is a challenge.” By deadline Saturday, those stakeholders had probably seen a more fleshed out version of Zook’s plan, but police officials who hold the cards in negotiations did not respond to my requests for comment.

My take? Yes, it’s late in the game. Yes, it’s crazy to think of tooling around with a delicately crafted piece of legislation that took in essence more than a decade to reach this point. Considering everything on the line for Houston – from our credit rating to potential layoffs of hundreds of police and firefighters – this pension bill is too big to fail.

It’s also too big not to get right. Zook’s idea is sensible. It deserves a fair review – albeit a prompt one. We got in this pension mess 15 years ago because some of the stakeholders were blind to some of the facts and some of the consequences.

This time, let’s do it right.

Here is the entire column: http://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/Falkenberg-Adding-fail-safe-provision-to-city-s-11109520.php?cmpid=btfpm.

The I got some feedback on pensions this past weekend:

** Craig Mason is wrong, his efforts to secure employment since Houston no longer required his services coloring his perspective. **

Without any substantiation, that should properly be regarded as a nasty personal smear that detracts from what follows.

There’s been no taxpayer advocate or watchdog involved in these negotiations as successive Dem administrations and union bosses have created this huge pension mess over nearly two decades — that much is indisputable. The numbers, borrowing, institutional reforms, and shape of plans going forward are all highly debatable, and Craig Mason’s is an informed perspective that deserves to be heard and debated. Whereas your brave, critical correspondent… offered up his initials along with his smear, making it a littler harder to take him/her seriously. – Kevin W.

Then this:

Kevin, one need only look at the circumstances of Mr. Mason’s departure from city employment as well as the singular issue he has focused on since to know my comments regarding him were correct. By all means research it for yourself but I did not leave my “initials”, Mr. Campos merely took part of my response and attributed it as such.

Regarding your representation in city contract talks with the pension boards, currently, one board doesn’t have to negotiate since they bypass city voters and go straight to the legislature while the other two negotiate with those who were elected to office. If you don’t like how your elected representatives negotiate on your behalf, vote them out of office (I’ve seen this argument a half dozen times of late so I can’t claim personal credit for it, but it makes sense). Aside from term limits, how many sitting mayors have lost an election in the last 25 years? Do you expect to sit in on every contract the city makes to accept the terms or just pension contracts?

On Bill King’s latest comment, please note too that a poll of select persons does not equate to “70% of Houston voters” supporting anything, much less something as complex as pension benefits. By moving new people into a DC program for pensions, it would undercut the legislative proposal to the point where additional money would be needed to fund both, and any substantial cuts from this point forward is going to make recruiting talented workers almost impossible since every other major city, the state, and feds compensate so much better.

Further, if the pensions do not make the investment returns needed, increasing employee contributions is only one possibility for bringing future funding back within the corridor. The more likely scenario would be that COLAs would be kept low for a longer period of time or the specific benefits tweaked as needed to sustain the funds. As far as the likelihood of lawsuits, please remember that city of Houston voters opted out of the state constitution amendment to prevent cuts, that is the basis for this entire proposal now before the legislature! I’m sure lawyer Andy Taylor and others will try some novel argument to convince the courts otherwise but that was how it went down, wishful thinking by firemen not withstanding. I’d like to see the math employed by Arnold Foundation employee Josh McGee to come up with his numbers used in the report but even he has proclaimed the current proposal is a good step forward and can work as is, so I’m not sure why some want to complicate things more than they are.

Otherwise, I wish the Kevin’s of the community would make up their mind regarding local control. Either you want it or you don’t. You seem to want it on your terms only, ignoring the will of the voters that elected Mayor Turner when it suits you but favoring it when such would violate state law. The amendment Senator Bettencourt wants passed is a poison pill for the city and all its voters since he can’t get the votes to defeat the pension bill that the Greater Houston Partnership endorsed yesterday, most employee groups begrudgingly accepted, and all concerned admit is the best bill likely to positively impact the situation. Bill King ran for office almost exclusively on issuing many billions of dollars in debt to fix everything and on defined contribution pensions; he lost so it’s time to move forward. – Steve H.

Go get your Chron to see what Mike Morris says today on the issue and the Trib also has a take on pension reform.

I was actually thinking this after Keuchel’s win yesterday:

Brian McTaggart‏Verified account@brianmctaggart 28m28 minutes ago

Dallas Keuchel with a good shot for AL Pitcher of the Month

Dallas of course leads MLB pitchers with 44 2/3 innings pitched this year.

We have a key four game series with the Rangers that starts this evening. I am thinking a lot of folks will be at The Yard this week.

 

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