The Dallas Morning News
Pension woes are a threat to public safety
Sam Friar: First responders take biggest hit under proposed fix; city must take fair share of burden
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings’ proposed changes to House Bill 3158, the bill before the Texas Legislature designed to shore up the Dallas Police and Fire Pension fund, would lead to the fund’s insolvency and create a public safety crisis in Dallas.
Failure to fix the pension system will cause mass resignations by Dallas first responders, resulting in a dangerous shortage of police officers and firefighters. This shortage would be far more damaging to the city than any concerns expressed by the well-heeled Dallas Citizens Council.
We agree that much progress has been made. We commend Rep. Dan Flynn and his staff for their tireless efforts filing the bill. We urge legislators to reject the mayor’s latest attempt to move the goal posts on board structure and funding.
On board structure, Flynn has proposed that control should be shared 50/50 between the city and the members. The mayor now seeks control. He wants the Legislature to allow him personally to appoint six of 11 trustees on the board. The members, the city and the citizens of Dallas all have a stake in the survival of the pension fund. The members and the city should have an equal voice running the plan.
On sharing the burden to fix the pension fund, elementary school math reveals that the bill requires a much higher sacrifice from Dallas first responders than from the city.
Under HB 3158, contributions from pension fund members would increase significantly, by around $1.2 billion over 30 years according to our estimates. The members’ benefits would also be cut by $1.4 billion, making the total proposed burden on first responders approximately $2.6 billion, our forecasts show. In addition, the mayor wants to claw back an estimated $700 million of previously earned benefits from police and firefighter retirees.
We forecast contributions from the city over 30 years would increase between $626 million and $946 million, or 11 to 16 percent, depending upon the plan’s funding levels.
The bulk of the financial burden falls clearly on the backs of 10,000 Dallas first responders. The city’s share would come from a population of more than 1 million people.
We have heard repeatedly about the need for shared sacrifice. While these dollar amounts represent a shared sacrifice by both the city and the members, the city’s sacrifice is significantly smaller.
Dallas police and firefighters have no Social Security. They deserve a good wage and a reasonable retirement. With lower pay, an inferior pension, higher required retirement age and more dangerous work conditions than surrounding communities, what incentive would any qualified first responder ever have to work in Dallas? It’s little wonder why other cities are aggressively recruiting our experienced police and firefighters.
Let’s not waste the commendable effort made by Flynn. We encourage state legislators to reject the mayor’s harmful proposals and adopt HB 3158 to save the pension fund.
It’s time to give first responders a reason to stay in Dallas.