Task Force Looks For Ways To Reduce Red Ink

Later today, Houston's mayor and council will get the recommendations from a task force charged with finding ways to reduce the city's red ink. Some of the suggestions may help, others will be headed for the waste basket.

The Financial Management Task Force, formed by Houston City Council, has been holding discussions since last summer. It's made up of representatives of  the 3 city union groups, municipal employees, police and firefighters, and a representative of each pension group, 5 community representatives, 3 council members, a mayor's rep and a financial director's representative.

Todd Clark, who chairs the Houston Firefighter Relief and Retirement Fund, is a member of the task force. He says discussions centered on three criteria: material, financial and long term, but became disillusioned the deeper the discussions went.

"This task force had the opportunity to do a lot of good things. But we had speakers come in and talk about financial issues and this that and the other, but everything always seemed to go back toward the pensions."

"Why?"

"It was a setup deal, in my opinion, from the beginning."

The pension discussion and the other recommendations became the fuel for a rally at city hall, attended by about a 100 city workers: fire-fighters, city hall employees and retired workers.  

Melvin Hughes, president of H.O.P.E., the Houston Organization of Public Employees, took to the microphone:

"We got elderly right here in this community that are struggling, but yet we started giving big business breaks, tax breaks. I want to make sure we understand this: a Congress budget office reported income from the top 1 percent increased around 275 percent. 275 percent, it is unbalanced people. It's unbalanced brothers and sisters. We are not getting our fair share. We need to understand that if we are going to change things, this must be told. The story must be told."

Marisol Rodriguez with H.O.P.E says there is a misconception about city workers with pensions.  

"You are talking about City of Houston employees that only retire with $22,000. That's quite a difference than what's perceived in the general public. They think that we retire with an incredible, huge amount of money when they really don't. I've met retired employees from the City of Houston that bring home $600 and with their health insurance, they pay about $300 and something that gives them $300 to play with and pay bills with — it's just not a good thing." 

Six members of the task force submitted a minority report that outlines a broad-based approach to shore up the city's finances and reduce the $13.1 billion debt load. Mayor Annise Parker will comment later today on those recommendations.

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Pat Hernandez

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Pat Hernandez is a general assignments reporter who joined the KUHF news staff in February of 2008...