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Firefighters turn in their petitions

Good for them, but boy is this thing a train wreck.

Houston firefighters delivered over 32,000 signatures to City Hall Monday in support of putting a ballot initiative on the November election mandating parity in pay between firefighter and police-officer ranks.

[…]

“This petition drive was necessary because Houston firefighters are at a breaking point,” said Marty Lancton, president of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association at a press conference Monday morning. “We now are asking the voters to help Houston fire fighters because the city refuses to do so.”

Former Houston City Attorney Dave Feldman, who is advising the petition effort, said a formal cost estimate of the initiative if approved in November has not been determined.

Using average figures for the cost of police and fire personnel without regard to rank, increasing fire base pay to match that of police would cost roughly $40 million in the current fiscal year. The city finance department projects annual budget deficits of more than $100 million for the next five years.

See here for the background, and a long comment thread. I mean look, this isn’t a proposal right now, it’s an idea. There are literally no details. If one were to run for office on this idea, one would expect to be questioned about basic things, like how much will this cost, and how will the city match job titles across two differently-structured departments. Anyone who provided the answers the firefighters are giving now would not be taken seriously, to put it mildly. In addition, while a candidate for office would have until November to come up with satisfying responses, the firefighters have until the end of August, at which time referendum language would have to be written and approved by City Council.

And what do you think that referendum language might say, based on what we know so far? Think of the recent history of ballot referenda and all the ensuing litigation over said language, and ask yourself if there is any possible wording that will satisfy both the proponents and opponents of this idea. The ballot language lawsuit practically writes itself – it will just be a matter of finding the right taxpayers to serve as plaintiffs. If it is written with sufficient detail to explain how it will be done it will be attacked as too complicated for anyone to understand, and if it is stated simply it will be derided as vague to the point of meaninglessness. This is a bad idea on so many levels, and you can take it to the bank that it will be tied up in court for years to come. The Press has more.

UPDATE: Here’s the full Chron story. I’ll have more to say about this tomorrow.

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7 Comments

  1. Steve Houston says:

    “I think with both pension and pay parity on the agenda, there’s good chance that if firefighters vote uniformly, it could be problematic for the pension issue,” Rottinghaus said.

    Few firefighters live inside the city so it won’t be their votes that make the difference in either measure. Given the pension cuts to HFD are not tied to the bond vote, nor does the parity measure include pensions since HFD’s are still more generous, I’m sure the municipal workers and police would love for the bonds to fail. That way, HFD’s cuts remain while the others go back to their full pension benefits for at least two years, giving hundreds of additional employees the chance to leave with better pensions as the less senior employees in each department, including HFD, bear the brunt of the layoffs or other austerity measures.

  2. David Fagan says:

    And, Steve Houston, your comment points out exactly why the fire fighters are at this point, the ‘breaking point’.

  3. voter_worker says:

    Throw in the possibility of a lawsuit if an insufficient number of signatures are qualified by the City.

  4. Steve Houston says:

    David, I get that which is why I brought it up. And unlike those on the far right that support you until it comes to actually paying you better, I think you should get a double digit raise in direct pay. I’m just curious if the referendum has washed away any hope of reaching a pay raise in the foreseeable future as your representatives play the lottery.

    Voter_Worker, no matter what happens there will be lawsuits. If Anna’s team finds insufficient, valid signatures, if the measure passes, if the language is not to everyone’s liking, if the measure fails…. And those lawsuits may well tie up any potential raise for years while right now there exists room to compromise without the brinkmanship games being played. Having read the referendum, there are all sorts of questionable aspects to it but in a strong mayor form of city government, there will be all sorts of avenues to attack too. Some people think making a deal on what is on the table is more sensible, and I am one of those people.

  5. Tom in Lazybrook says:

    We can’t afford to pay the firefighters more in total benefits than other city workers. Besides, why should Houston voters vote to give extra benefits to non-Houston residents? Let Grimes County, Spring, or Waller County taxpayers pay them.

    Metro Driver = Teacher = Police Officer = Code Enforcement Clerk = Police Officer.

  6. Steve Houston says:

    Tom, until you pass a law requiring city workers live inside the city, a law like those up north by the way, I don’t believe you can treat those living outside the city any differently. As far as what benefits and pay they want versus what the city can afford, both sides should check the chips on their shoulders at the door. Houston is already the low cost leader in employee pay in most fields the city hires so I’m sympathetic to a point with their cause, I just don’t think they are being realistic at all.

    And your willingness to equate employees from various different organizations doesn’t convey much of anything. Metro is different than the city, teachers are paid by ISD’s, every group has their own cops, and clerks are a generic title also employed by everyone under the sun. Should they all be paid the same? No, as each has their own requirements and responsibilities.

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