Update to My Fellow Firefighters on Pension “Reform” Developments [HFRRF]
by David Keller
There’s been so much going on in Austin that it is hard for me to find a starting place. So let me start with you and I’ll ramble on from there.
I have never been so proud as a firefighter than on March 27 when hundreds of you showed up in Austin to testify on House Bill 43. Everyone was so polite, well informed and eloquent in their comments to the House Pensions Committee. It’s hard to imagine how the bill could ever have been reported favorably out of committee. You did your job and you did it well.
But now you know what we’ve been up against: a full-blown effort by the City to make firefighters fill a pension hole we didn’t dig. The City has been pursuing that course because we have money. We’re the best funded pension system in the state when compared to other plans with more than $1 billion in assets. The City has needed its ‘fix’ to come from somewhere. The City’s obligation to your pension is only 18% of the total owed to all three systems, but the City has been asking HFRRF to take on 35-40% of the total cuts. Again, the money had to come from somewhere. Talk about punishing success.
And that’s why I’ve been spending so much time in Austin, telling lawmakers your stories. It’s been hard because the truth has been twisted in so many ways. Take for example this baloney about our Board approving the City’s draconian cuts in October. Nothing is further from the truth. Our Board voted in October to continue discussions in hope of reaching mutually agreed upon legislative language. In every subsequent meeting those terms were altered or more were introduced. How do you agree in October to one thing and then get entirely differently terms in March? Well, that’s exactly what happens when you deal with the City.
Thankfully, with your help, we helped lawmakers understand this dynamic. The simple fact that Senator Huffman was working with us so diligently in the last two weeks on Senate Bill 2190, even while you were testifying in the House, reflected that at least one lawmaker understood what had happened. We hope you do also.
Today’s media barrage is more of the same. Lawmakers are being pressured by Moody’s saying that Houston bonds will be downgraded if a draconian bill with big cuts to firefighters’ pensions doesn’t pass. Baloney. Houston’s other two systems can fix their problems through the meet and confer process already available to the City. And the City doesn’t need a vote to issue $1 billion in pension obligation bonds those other systems want. They can do it tomorrow (kind of). We’ve stayed out of that mess because, again, we’re one of the best pension funds in Texas.
So where are we going? It will be more of the same for the near future. Back and forth to Austin. Back and forth with lawmakers. We remain OPPOSED to the two bills, SB 2190 and HB 43 because they put too much burden on you. We oppose them because this ballyhooed corridor mechanism is probably unconstitutional, taking control of actuarial assumptions away from our Board. We think that’s wrong and the Texas Constitution does as well.
Please keep contacting your representatives and your brother and sister firefighters in other parts of the state. We’re not going to let up on pressuring lawmakers to realize the City of Houston has all it needs to fix its problems without deep cuts to firefighters’ pensions. Be there with us.
Houston Firefighters’ Relief and Retirement Fund
Board of Trustees
4225 Interwood North Parkway Houston, TX 77032-3866 281.372.5100 TEL 281.372.5101 FAX 1.800.666.9737 www.hfrrf.org
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