Vote no: Pas­sage would have fright­en­ing con­se­quences

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - OUTLOOK - By Sylvester Turner

Ibe­lieve in equal pay for equal work, es­pe­cially for city em­ploy­ees who put their lives at risk to save yours and mine. Propo­si­tion B— a city char­ter amend­ment pro­posal on the Nov. 6 city bal­lot as a re­sult of a fire­fight­ers pe­ti­tion drive — wouldn’t achieve equal pay. In fact it would do the op­po­site. Just as trou­bling: Ap­proval would have fright­en­ing con­se­quences for Hous­ton be­cause the pe­ti­tion was wrongly writ­ten. Propo­si­tion B would trig­ger a fire­fighter pay hike of at least 25 per­cent, cost­ing the city $98 mil­lion each year. On top of that, fire­fight­ers would get an ex­tra raise next year if po­lice of­fi­cers get one.

Be­cause the city has hit a rev­enue cap im­posed by the vot­ers in 2004, we would have to cut other spend­ing to pay for the salary in­crease.

The cuts would mean lay­offs of nearly 1,000 mu­nic­i­pal em­ploy­ees — in­clud­ing po­lice of­fi­cers and fire­fight­ers — and cut­backs to vi­tal city ser­vices. This would be bad for our city and un­fair to ev­ery­one.

“Pay par­ity” may have been the goal, but be­cause of the se­ri­ous mis­takes made in draft­ing this mea­sure,

un­equal pay is re­ally what we are vot­ing on in Novem­ber.

If Propo­si­tion B passes, fire­fight­ers will re­ceive the same equip­ment stipend as po­lice of­fi­cers. Yet po­lice of­fi­cers are re­quired to buy their equip­ment, in­clud­ing guns and am­mu­ni­tion, while fire­fight­ers are not. Fire­fight­ers would re­ceive ex­tra pay for earn­ing col­lege de­grees. Yet po­lice of­fi­cers are re­quired to earn

de­grees to be pro­moted

to lieu­tenant and higher ranks. Fire­fight­ers are not.

Fire­fight­ers would still re­ceive lu­cra­tive spe­cial re­tire­ment ben­e­fits given to them in the his­toric pen­sion re­form that vot­ers ap­proved over­whelm­ingly last year. Yet be­cause Propo­si­tion B fails to equal­ize re­tire­ment pay among po­lice of­fi­cers and fire­fight­ers, fire­fight­ers will get much more than po­lice.

Al­ready, fire­fight­ers can swap days off with each other, al­low­ing some to be away from their jobs for weeks, if not an en­tire month. Po­lice of­fi­cers do not have th­ese sched­ul­ing priv­i­leges. When a fire­fighter is un­able to work due to ill­ness or another cause, another fire­fighter is ac­ti­vated and paid over­time to cover the shift. Not so at HPD.

Th­ese are ex­am­ples of the se­ri­ous flaws in Propo­si­tion B, all of which would lead to an un­equal sys­tem that pays fire­fight­ers sub­stan­tially more than po­lice of­fi­cers.

Also, noth­ing in the ref­er­en­dum would fund the con­tin­u­a­tion of the much-needed re­place­ment of fire­fight­ing ve­hi­cles, or fire sta­tion mod­ern­iza­tion or health and safety pro­gram im­prove­ments.

Keep in mind that more than 80 per­cent of fire de­part­ment costs go to pro­vid­ing emer­gency med­i­cal ser­vices rather than putting out fires. What’s needed is a re­struc­tur­ing of the de­part­ment to meet th­ese de­mands, which Propo­si­tion B does not do.

If Propo­si­tion B passes, de­liv­er­ing on the fire­fighter salary hike could mean lay­ing off po­lice of­fi­cers, fire­fight­ers and mu­nic­i­pal em­ploy­ees, cut­ting hours at com­mu­nity cen­ters, swim­ming pools and li­braries, re­duc­ing parks main­te­nance, de­lay­ing mu­nic­i­pal court cases and per­mit­ting, in­ter­rupt­ing garbage ser­vice and other cuts.

Another sce­nario shifts more of the lay­offs to the fire de­part­ment. Salaries and other costs for first re­spon­ders and other pub­lic safety em­ploy­ees make up 57 per­cent of the city’s en­tire an­nual bud­get, mak­ing lay­offs in­evitable if the city is forced to in­crease fire­fighter pay.

You won’t find the loom­ing fis­cal cri­sis men­tioned in the bal­lot lan­guage be­cause the law says it has to be based on the pe­ti­tion word­ing. Nev­er­the­less, the situation is patently clear.

Do fire­fight­ers de­serve a raise? Ab­so­lutely. The pre­vi­ous mayor of­fered a 4 per­cent in­crease. It was re­jected. I have of­fered a 9.5 per­cent raise over three years. That of­fer was re­jected but re­mains on the ta­ble.

I have ne­go­ti­ated suc­cess­fully with city work­ers and po­lice of­fi­cers on pen­sions and pay raises. I know the city can­not af­ford a 25 per­cent raise for any em­ployee group. No mat­ter what the out­come of this mea­sure, I will con­tinue to make sure that our city pub­lic ser­vants will do their best to keep our city safe with the re­sources at hand.

I also urge ev­ery Hous­to­nian to join me in vot­ing against Propo­si­tion B. Stand­ing in agree­ment with me is an un­prece­dented coali­tion of Repub­li­cans, Democrats and non­par­ti­san vot­ers, busi­ness and la­bor lead­ers, com­mu­nity groups and pub­lic safety lead­ers. They share my con­cern that the propo­si­tion would cre­ate an un­af­ford­able man­date re­quir­ing cut­backs to vi­tal pub­lic ser­vices.

Af­ter Nov. 6, let’s go back to the draw­ing board and col­lab­o­rate on a so­lu­tion that is fair to fire­fight­ers, po­lice of­fi­cers and all Hous­to­ni­ans.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.