Three former Dallas mayors lead a new business and political group that stepped into the Dallas Police and Fire Pension crisis Friday to campaign against a tax hike as the solution.
A website appeared Friday morning for “Taxpayers for a Fair Pension,” which also includes major Dallas Chambers of Commerce and business organizations.
“We’ve got to get beyond the bad feelings that are going back and forth,” said former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert. “We’ve got a terrific police and fire department. At the same time, there has to be a balancing with the needs of the taxpayer.”
The pension fund is estimated to be several billion dollars short on future obligations and could be insolvent in less than 10 years.
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A run on the fund by worried members of about $600 million in withdrawals from deferred retirement option plan accounts accelerated the pension system’s decline last year.
The run stopped after current Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings filed a lawsuit using his own money.
Former Mayor Laura Miller, who is also participating in the new group, said she supported what Rawlings did.
"Something has to be done. I said, 'sign me up,'" Miller said.
The Texas Legislature created the Dallas Police and Fire Pension System and state lawmakers must approve changes to fix it. The Pension Fund and the city submitted competing plans for consideration in the current session underway in Austin now.
Leppert said the new group will also lobby lawmakers and work to educate taxpayers about the size of the problem.
“We need to make sure we protect those individuals, the men and women who serve us in those departments,” Leppert said. “But we also have to make sure that there’s checks and balances in place. This is a big number and the taxpayers have to be represented. Unfortunately in the way this thing has evolved, the taxpayers aren’t represented at the table today.”
Current officials said they made progress on negotiations for a compromise plan, but mediation reached a stalemate this week with key issues still unresolved.
Police and fire employee leaders held a news conference Thursday where they accused city officials of walking away.
“I was 90 percent positive that I would get a phone call the next day or the following day that we had a deal done. That’s how close we were,” said Dallas Police Association President Mike Mata. “We will not sit silently while our elected leaders push their pet projects like the Trinity River Project, golf courses and deck parks, while asking police and firefighters to sacrifice yet again.”
Some police and fire leaders blame the former city officials for failing to solve the pension problems sooner.
“Absolutely we saw them and we had discussions and it was very frustrating for me and I think it’s been frustrating for the other mayors, because the state legislature really pulled the city out,” Leppert said.
The Dallas City Council Wednesday approved a resolution asking the four city council members currently serving on the 12 member Police and Fire Pension Board to take any measures necessary to save the fund, including the possibility of a new lawsuit seeking court control of the fund.