Hard Choices Incoming for Fort Worth Pension Fund - Texas Scorecard

Last legislative session, Texas lawmakers were asked to intervene in Dallas and Houston’s public employee pension funds due to growing financial insolvency. Now, Fort Worth is trying to stave off a reckoning of its own on its employee pensions.

Rising costs and no easy way to pay for them have plagued the pension in recent years, which funds the retirements of city firefighters, police officers, librarians, and other municipal employees.

Currently the fund distributes almost $195 million a year to over 10,000 employees and retirees. This payout, one of the largest in the state, is funded by $90 million from taxpayers and $32 million from employees, resulting in over $70 million in annual shortfalls that eat into the solvency of the pension fund.

City manager David Cooke, the official charged with overseeing a pension task force, proposed recently that the city and employees contribute an additional $50 million to the fund while current retirees receive a cut to cost-of-living increases. His plan also recommends increasing the retirement age of firefighters and certain civilian employees to 55.

He has been strident in his recommendations, saying these issues need to be dealt with swiftly and decisively, in order to avoid future, more painful cuts.

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price has been similarly urgent in her calls to action, expressing a desire to solve the problem locally and avoid state legislative intervention.

As average life expectancies continue to rise, pensions and entitlement programs across the nation face difficulties meeting increased costs. Taxpayers and elected officials alike face difficult conversations about how to adjust these programs in an era where the recipients of these benefits will use them for many more years than was planned at the programs’ inception.