I don’t know enough about the particulars of the city’s pension problems to be able to sort out the competing claims made in this story. I do know that the current system is not sustainable, and that the fight to make changes in it will be long and nasty. I know some folks would like to see the Mayor charge in and just start making cuts, but these are basically contracts, and state law protects the beneficiaries while limiting what the Mayor can do. And I would not expect any significant change in that to come out of the next legislative session.
First, the state is facing a budget shortfall estimated by some at more than $20 billion, one that may consume all the attention of state lawmakers.
Second, Texas’ pension laws have been designed to ensure that municipalities will be able to keep the promises they have made to employees. They provide the systems with a modicum of independence and regulate how much cities and counties must give, putting them in a stronger financial position than many other government funds around the country, analysts say.
Third, the pensions will spend far more on lobbyists in Austin than the city. Texas Ethics Commission data shows the three pensions have plans to spend an estimated $400,000 to $800,000 on lobbying this legislative session.
The city, on the other hand, is expected to spend $200,000 to $350,000 on the entire range of issues it is seeking to address in the 2011 session.
“The mayor would hope, given the severe financial state that the state of Texas and the city of Houston are experiencing, that the Legislature would take up the issue of overly generous taxpayer-funded retirements, like they’ve done for other pension systems,” said Darrin Hall, director of the mayor’s office of Intergovernmental Relations.
And fourth, both the police and firefighters unions endorsed Rick Perry for re-election. Perry has absolutely no reason to give the city any help, so even if a bill does pass, don’t be surprised if it gets vetoed. Whatever we have to do about this, we’ll be on our own to do it.