Two weeks remain before state steps into Dallas' pension crisis

DALLAS – With 17 days remaining to file bills in the legislature and negotiations over the city’s mismanaged and underfunded police and fire pension at a standstill, state lawmakers say they will likely be forced to step into the crisis.

“I think we're forced to step in. We're [17] days away from the deadline and there is yet to be an agreement between the city and the pension board,” said State Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, on WFAA’s Inside Texas Politics this morning. “I think at this point we have to have a summit or some form of intervention, get everyone to the table and hammer those final issues down. If they don’t do that, it's going to be a plan that's drawn by the legislators, and we don't have a stake interest like the other groups do to understand the nuances.”

Progress has stopped in negotiations over the last couple weeks. If nothing is done, the pension fund for retiring police officers and firefighters will run out of money in the next decade.

It was originally set up by the state and the last chance for lawmakers to file bills to fix it is March 1. Otherwise, it will have to wait until the 2019 legislative session.

“If it doesn't come as an agreement [which lawmakers can sign off on] that means the whole state gets to play,” said State Rep. Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas, on Inside Texas Politics. “In 2009 when State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez presented the Austin pension, he said 'This is a local bill.' Sid Miller, who's now the agriculture secretary, said 'Wait a minute. Why are you bringing it to the floor? This means it’s a state deal, so I have a stake in this deal.' So, it died. So, I say all the employee groups, the city council, the pension, everybody has to be involved. When you come to us, and I'm on the pension committee, all of you have to come to an agreement because if you don't, Houston, San Antonio, the Valley, everybody gets to play."

Separately, both Dallas legislators said changes will likely be made to the Senate’s recently passed bill on sanctuary cities. That’s a term to describe cities or counties that do not honor detainer requests on jailed suspects from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“The House has just appointed committees we are at least a month out, maybe longer before we start addressing this issue. I do believe it will get to the House floor. I believe the votes are there to get it passed this time,” said Villalba.

But Rep. Alonzo disagreed.

“This bill, Senate Bill 4, is dead on arrival in the House. Period,” he stated.

A last minute amendment to Senate Bill 4, the Senate’s legislation on sanctuary cities, would make it a crime for which they could lose their elected office, if county sheriffs refused to honor ICE detainers.

“I don’t think those kind of provisions ultimately pass in the House. The core of the bill remains stalwart. We’ll have that bill, something like it in the House. Some of the ancillary provisions that Rep. Alonzo is mentioning likely will get stripped out, it goes back to conference and we’ll see what happens. But a bill looking similar to what we’ve seen in the Senate will be in the House and I think it will likely pass,” added Villalba.

The legislative session ends May 29.

Copyright 2016 WFAA


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