Recently, the president of the Houston Police Officers Union told a local newspaper the city would be facing “catastrophic” consequences if voters decline a pension measure on the November ballot.
Intended to create $1 billion in bonds for the city’s pension fund, Union President Ray Hunt told the Houston Press the city could be forced to initiate layoffs and cut services, including to first responders, if the bond measure does not pass.
The measure, listed on the ballot as Proposition A, reportedly asks voters to approve $1 billion in bonds to help the city pay down the $8.2 billion it currently owes to its pension fund for police and city workers to be paid back over 30 years.
According to reports, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner proposed the bond structure after meeting with state legislators earlier this year and is part of his plan to reform the debt structure of the pension fund.
If it passes, he maintains the structure would reduce the city’s obligation from $8.2 billion to $3 billion, while also lowering the interest rate on the payments.
Earlier this year, Mayor Turner reached an agreement with the unions representing police officers and city workers, with the unions agreeing to a $1.8 billion rollback on benefits.
This agreement reduced the city’s debt obligation, in an attempt to help the city in its efforts to balance the budget.
But, if the bond measure fails, according to supporters, unions will no longer be obligated to agree to the rollback, which could leave the city on the hook for $150 million in payments to the pension funds over the next fiscal year.
Hunt spoke out on his hopes of how the bond issue will pass, despite the fact he personally stands to benefit if it fails:
“You’ve gotta ask yourself: Why would a union leader, my case specifically, be supporting something that’s costing him money?” he said during an interview. “If these fail, on April 1, I’m going to get a 10.5 percent raise and a 2.4 percent cost-of-living adjustment on my pension — and I’m still asking voters to vote yes and not give me that.”
Alan Bernstein, the spokesman for Mayor Turner, told the local media during an interview the failure of Proposition A, as well as other bond issues on the ballot, would place the city in financial difficulty:
“Rejection of the bonds would likely make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to fund some of the essential services and equipment purchases that are mentioned in each proposition, at least in the relative short term.”
Election Day is Nov. 7, but early voting is already underway in Houston.