Finally breaking their silence, Houston Mayor Annise Parker and Controller Ron Green publicly responded to a damning article published by the Houston Business Journal (HBJ) which detailed the true extent of Houston’s fiscal disaster created by its politicians. Instead of accepting responsibility or even proposing any meaningful remedies, Parker and Green are, unsurprisingly, working to discredit the report.
Parker and Green are in complete denial. They allege the facts published were dramatically overstated, even though HBJ obtained them from the Greater Houston Partnership’s (GHP) yearlong study. The GHP was given unfettered access to the cities own documents along with assistance from city employees to analyze them.
Although the disastrous duo rejected most of the findings from the HBJ report, one thing that everyone can agree on is the need for pension reform. Since Houston’s system is codified in state law, the unfortunate truth is that any real pension reform must wait until the next legislative session, assuming the legislature takes up the issue.
That’s not to say nothing can be done in the interim.
Politicians have long used the legislature’s hold on Houston’s pensions as a scapegoat in explaining why city finances are in disarray. Reformers should be using the time between now and the next legislative session to build a sustainable pension reform plan and organize citizen-led coalitions to publicly support them during the next legislative session.
Parker and Green have been in office for six years and have not attempted to bring pension control home, despite findings such as the Long Range Financial Management Task Force report released on February 6, 2012 which forewarned of Houston’s unsustainable problem.
“The HBJ coverage was riddled with inaccuracies and hyperbole better suited for an editorial than a supposedly unbiased news story,” said the duo. But Texas Public Policy Foundation’s (TTPF) James Quintero said their Op-Ed “contained a number of curiosities.”
He points out that the article penned by Parker and Green claims the recent Moody’s revision made no mention of debt concerns. That simply isn’t true, especially since the article is titled, “$3 Billion in debt outstanding.”
Quintero also goes on to say, “contrary to the article, local debt is a major problem in the Bayou City – and it’s going to take strong leadership and the right policy prescriptions to get Houston’s finances back on track.”
Our publication has also drawn attention to Houston’s local debt problem after reading the Hoover Institution’s report on rising pension debts in the nation’s major cities.
Houston is one of the nation’s leaders in pension cost compared to what the city can repay. Although Parker ran as a “fiscal conservative,” she has strategically dodged any financial accountability while in office. The true extent of the problem won’t be fully realized until she is conveniently out of office and, even then, the blame will likely fall on anyone but her.
For far too long, too many Houstonians have blindly trusted elected officials with empty rhetoric. Politicians, such as as Parker, vow to represent their constituents’ best interests, but consistently fail to follow through. It’s time for taxpayers to get more informed, more engaged, start asking tough questions, and assist in the governing process.
If solutions are not realized and implemented, the city that more than 2 million Texans call home will no longer be the “Capital of the South.” Houstonians have a duty to elect better officials this November, build support for bringing pension decisions back to city hall during this next legislative session, and make sure their servants restrain spending growth.
We will continue to sound the alarm about the major issues facing the Bayou City, but it is up to Houstonians themselves to set an example for the rest of the state and lead themselves out of this looming financial catastrophe.