Turner makes early community pitch on bonds: ‘More police’

1 Houston

Houston News & Search

1 News - 1 eMovies - 1 eMusic - 1 eBooks - 1 Search

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner stopped by the Hermann Park Rotary Club meeting Tuesday night to congratulate his good friend and longtime supporter, Georgia Provost, on her installation as president.

He made his usual cheerleading speech about the city, stepped away from the microphone and smiled for snapshots with Provost and the club’s outgoing president, Ted Weisgal.

Then, as if a switch flipped, Turner quickly returned to the podium and made one of his earliest pitches for proposed bonds to improve city parks, libraries, community centers, fire stations and health clinics as well as for a reversal of Houston’s revenue cap and confirmation of the city’s pension-reform deal by voters.

His hook: The disparity in police officers between Houston and two of the nation’s largest cities.

“We need at least 600 more police. We’ve got an aging fleet of fire trucks and garbage trucks and police vehicles,” the mayor said. “We have 5,100 police officers covering 640 square miles.”

Then, Turner asked for prayers before making his case for citizens casting ballots to raise the Houston’s voter-imposed revenue cap that limits what the city can collect in property taxes.

He said the city reduced the property rate, saving the average taxpayer about $31 or $2.50 a month.

“You are not going to see it. It is not going to even register,” he said.

What could the city have done without that rollback, which totaled $28.4 million?

“I could have hired 250 police officers for the year and paid their salaries and their benefits,” Turner said. “You all will have to tell me whether or not you want to stay with the revenue cap or you want it removed. I’ll do whatever the voters in this city want.

“But if you want to keep the revenue cap … OK, we’ll stay within our means. But you cannot keep asking for more if the money is not there. You can’t. You just can’t.

“Chicago has 12,000 police officers – 12,000. New York City has close to 50,000. City of Houston: 5,100. I want you to think about it. I want you to think about it. And they don’t come free. And I can’t get them from Wal-Mart at a discount.”

The landmark pension reform bill, effective Saturday, requires voters to approve $1 billion in bonds Turner plans to inject into the under-funded police and municipal pensions. If rejected, the substantial benefit cuts to those groups could be rescinded – which would increase the city’s costs immediately.

The referendum is part of Houston’s latest five-year Capital Improvement Plan, which was presented in a City Council committee meeting hours earlier.

“There are some pension obligation bonds that represent that final piece. It is the amount that the city has borrowed from the police pension system over the last 15 years — $750 million. They have borrowed from the municipal employees … over the last 15 years over $250 (million),” Turner explained. “Those are employees – police, fire, municipal workers – reducing their future retirement benefits by more than $3 billion. It is only fair that we pay back to them the money that the city has borrowed from them over the last 15 years. Those are the pension obligation bonds. I hope you will vote for it. … If you don’t vote for it, it (will) undo the pension agreement.”

The mayor wrapped up his remarks in eight minutes.

On his way out, he pressed the flesh and embraced supporters in the friendly crowd – leaving with evidence of the love: a smear of magenta lipstick on his chin from one lady’s kiss.

1 Houston

Houston News & Search

1 News - 1 eMovies - 1 eMusic - 1 eBooks - 1 Search



Leave a Reply