AUSTIN, Texas- Houstonians will have to wait until Monday to see if a bill to fix the city’s $8.2 billion pension shortfall will head to the Governor’s desk after an expected vote Saturday never happened.
Members of the House of Representatives in Austin were not able to debate and vote on House Bill 43 before adjourning at 3 p.m.
It’s a bill that Mayor Sylvester Turner says must pass to prevent an additional $134 million from being added to the city’s expected Fiscal Year 2018 budget shortfall of $120 million. Turner says if the bill isn’t passed before the Legislature ends May 29, up to 2,200 city employees, including police officers and firefighters, could be laid off.
Inside the Capitol on Saturday afternoon, Texas House members gave Houston’s firefighters, police officers, and municipal workers a standing ovation for their service but not the vote they were expecting on their future pension benefits.
“We’ll just drive back Monday,” said Dennis Levasseur, a 21-year veteran with the Houston Fire Department, outside the House chamber after the adjournment. “That’s part of it.”
Levasseur was one of hundreds of City of Houston employees, retirees, and top brass who made the trip to Austin, hoping to see a vote.
“Of course we would have loved for it to be done today because we wouldn’t have to travel back Monday,” said Gregory Williams, a 12-year employee with the city’s Public Works department and a union member. “But if we have to travel back Monday, we’ll be here Monday.”
Rep. Harold V Dutton, Jr. (D-Houston) couldn’t get the unanimous vote needed to move HB 43, authored by Rep. Dan Flynn (R-Van), to the front of the line. It was stuck behind dozens of bills left over from Friday that got first priority and didn’t get heard before the 3 p.m. adjournment.
“It’s unfortunate that it didn’t get moved up and get heard today so these folks wouldn’t have to travel back here on Monday,” said Ray Hunt, President of the Houston Police Officers Union. “But that’s the way that laws are made.”
Houston’s police union and municipal workers support the mayor’s plan, which calls for cuts to future benefits. However, some firefighters argue they’re being forced to take a disproportionate share of the cuts.
David Keller, Chair of the Houston Firefighters Relief and Retirement Fund, says they’ll be offering amendments to protect cost of living adjustments, which he says HB 43 freezes for three years.
“That’s what keeps (retirees) able to buy food and medicine in the same month,” said Keller, after the adjournment.
Keller maintains that the police and municipal funds carry 82% of the liability and could be handled with meet and confer agreements in Houston, leaving the Legislature out of the process.
Hunt says he believes there are enough votes for HB 43 to pass the House. If it does, Hunt says he has “no doubt” that Governor Greg Abbott will sign it into law.
The Texas Senate passed their version of Houston’s pension reform bill, SB 2190, on Monday with a 25-5 vote.