Union support for Houston pension deal unraveling at State Capitol
HOUSTON (FOX 26) - With the City of Houston $8 billion deep in a pension hole that's still growing, Mayor Sylvester Turners's deal with a trio of unions was hailed as a path to financial salvation.
Turner told lawmakers the plan, if approved, would wipe out the debt over 30 years and eliminate the need for immediate, substantial layoffs of city employees.
But today the bargain appeared to unravel at the State Capitol where lawmakers must grant their blessing for the agreement to go through.
Houston firefighters were the most outspoken, claiming the city made 21 unapproved changes.
"The terms were not what was agreed to in the term sheet and being that, Houston Firefighters are opposed to this bill," testified Marty Lancton, President of the Houston Professional Firefighters Association.
Turns out the Firefighters had company.
Those representing Houston police officers and municipal workers also expressed opposition, citing the addition of a mandatory, city-wide election to approve $1 billion worth of bonds--money the workers were promised in the deal to shore up their under-funded pensions.
Clearly, the unions fear taxpayers will say no to taking on the debt.
"A deal is a deal. To attach that to the back of the deal saying, take it to the voters. We said we would do what you told us to do, now do what you said you would do," said Melvin Hughes, President of the Houston Organization of Municipal Workers.
"The plan is owed $750 million in back contributions," said John Lawson, Director of the HPD pension, adding that voter approval of the bonds was not part of the agreement.
Despite the vocal opposition of all three union stakeholders, the bill authored by Houston Republican Joan Huffman was sent to the full senate on a 7 to 2 vote.
Houston firefighters are calling foul.
"It is just mind boggling that all three systems were opposed to it and yet somehow it is out of committee. We think it is unfair in every respect and it violates the very core of what was agreed to in the very beginning which is the ability of all the systems to come together and collectively find a solution to a problem and if there are people who are not in agreement then, there is no agreement," said Lancton.
Turner says there's no solution to the crisis without "shared sacrifice".