TX House Committee Vote on Dallas Pension Fix Delayed

Ex-DPD commanders: Pension crisis threatens public safety

A planned vote was delayed Monday on a Dallas Police and Fire Pension repair plan.

The Texas House Pensions Committee was to vote on whether to send the plan forward for a vote of the full Texas House of Representatives.

An aide to committee chairman State Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Canton, said more negotiation is underway instead, and the bill could return to the committee for a vote next Monday.

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and other city officials were opposed to portions of the current plan, saying they are too hard on taxpayers.

Retirees and employees wanted House Bill 3158 to move forward.

Support from the full House and the Texas Senate is required to make the plan law. Only about a month remains in the current session of the Texas Legislature.

A letter to Texas lawmakers last week from 32 former Dallas police commanders was intended to carry more weight in the ongoing pension crisis because so many of them signed it, according to one of the retired commanders.

"That was exactly the point we were trying to drive home, because we're seeing an unprecedented number of officers that are leaving the department and going to other agencies," said retired Dallas Deputy Police Chief David Elliston.

The letter comes as other cities work to take advantage of the Dallas pension crisis and lawmakers in Austin work to fix it.

San Antonio posted blaring billboards on Dallas turf, trying to lure away more officers with promises of a secure pension.

Created by the Texas Legislature, the Dallas Police and Fire Pension System currently reports assets of only about $2 billion, which may be up to $6 billion short on future obligations. Bad investments and generous benefits in the past are blamed, along with deception about the fund's ailments by prior managers.

Dallas' authorized police strength is around 3,600 officers. The city is currently about 400 officers short of that, and violent crime has been edging back up the past year after several years of decline.

"If something is not done and done soon to resolve the pension crisis, we're going to have more officers leaving, and it's creating a bad public safety crisis for the city," Elliston said.

Former Dallas Deputy Police Chief David Elliston is among a group of dozens of former high-ranking officers speaking out about the city's pension crisis.

Elliston was a Dallas police officer for 38 years, reaching the rank of deputy chief. He was commander of the North Central Patrol substation from 2004 to 2009 and supervised the Crimes Against Persons Bureau for 18 months until his retirement in 2010.

Elliston said a secure retirement with a Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) savings program that offered up to 10-percent interest was promised to public safety workers for many years.

"That was the carrot they would dangle in front of everybody when they would go to the city and ask for pay raises," he said.

A $500 million run on the fund from lump-sum DROP withdrawals by worried retirees last year contributed to the crisis. Elliston left his money in the fund but now faces tough new restrictions on withdrawals.

"There are a lot of people that left their money in the fund, trying to help the fund stabilize, to be solvent," Elliston said. "And now they want to take those benefits back."

The Texas House Pension Committee held a hearing last week in Austin on the potential solution to the crisis. HB 3158 includes eliminating DROP interest along with other plan reductions.

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings spoke against the bill, telling lawmakers it would reduce the city's ability to pay for other things taxpayers want like street repair. The city also wants majority control of the Police and Fire Pension System to eliminate employee and retiree power over benefits.

Talks were still ongoing over those issues Monday as the Pension Committee was delayed.

The current bill still includes a gap of about $600 million. Retirees are especially concerned about a future "clawback" option on base pension benefits that could be used to close that gap.

State Rep. Jason Villalba (R-Dallas), an HB 3158 co-author, initially criticized Rawlings for opposing the bill before last week's hearing. Villalba was less critical of Rawlings Friday.

"He brought some very valid points up we have to address," Villalba said. "Everyone in this debate is interested in getting things done and taking care of it in a fair and reasonable way."

Elliston and many of other signers of the letter attended and spoke at Monday's hearing, then wrote the letter to lawmakers Wednesday to promote more of their side of the story.

Villalba promised to keep working on the solution.

"Let's work hand in hand and make sure that this ship stays afloat and it goes forward and we make Dallas better. That's what we're going to do," Villalba said.

The governor must also sign any bill passed by the Legislature before it becomes law.


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