As proud leaders of Dallas who represent every corner of the city, we strongly believe that we are protected and served by some of the best police officers and firefighters in America. We want this to always be the case, and that is why we feel so strongly about the need to fix the Dallas Police and Fire Pension System.
It’s no secret that the Dallas region has become one of the fastest-growing and strongest economies in the nation, attracting more than 75 corporate headquarters and 500,000 new jobs since 2010. This has made the region one of the country’s most desirable places to live, work and do business. However, Dallas’ future financial health is at risk if the pension crisis is not properly resolved.
So why should taxpayers care?
This crisis has been created by a convergence of outdated laws, unsustainable program features and risky financial investments by previous pension fund leadership. The city of Dallas and its taxpayers have made their contributions and met their commitments, in full, to the pension plan every year. In fact, Dallas taxpayers have paid more than $1.1 billion to the pension from 2006 to present, yet taxpayers have had no control over the pension’s management or decisions.
We do not fault the rank-and-file police and fire personnel in Dallas who have served loyally and, understandably, believed the promises of their board and its former advisers. But their former pension board adopted extravagant benefits and features for its members and made things worse through poor investment deals and even borrowed millions of dollars for unduly risky investments. No other governmental entity is allowed to take these kinds of irresponsible actions, and certainly not with impunity.
The result is potentially a $4 billion unfunded liability that would land on the backs of taxpayers, manifested in a rise in property taxes and a fall in funding for core city services. This burden could hurt Dallas and the region for decades, leaving taxpayers facing consequences for problems they did not create.
The state statute that governs the pension program does not grant Dallas the power or responsibility to fix the Police and Fire Pension System. This costly problem therefore requires legislative action.
That’s why we are joining with other concerned individuals and organizations to form Taxpayers for a Fair Pension. Our mission is simple. First, we must make certain Dallas has a fair and equitable Police and Fire Pension System that provides a solid future for all our police and firefighters — including members, retirees and beneficiaries — while, at the same time, keeping citizens safe and protecting taxpayers from financial bailouts. Second, we’ll work closely with the Texas Legislature, urging authorization of a new pension system with the necessary oversight structure and checks and balances. The system should provide equal governing authority to the taxpayers as well as the police and fire beneficiaries.
Taxpayers for a Fair Pension is led by former mayors Ron Kirk, Laura Miller and Tom Leppert, and our members to date are the Dallas Black Chamber of Commerce, Dallas Citizens Council, Dallas Regional Chamber, Greater Dallas Asian American Chamber of Commerce, Greater Dallas Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, MetroTex Association of Realtors, North Dallas Chamber of Commerce, Oak Cliff Chamber of Commerce, Stemmons Corridor Business Association and the Real Estate Council.
Dallas has proposed a solution, one that fully funds the pension over 30 years without increasing property taxes. The plan will protect base benefits for our first responders and ensure everyone is treated equitably, including taxpayers. The plan will require state legislation and tough choices by the city and its employees.
The legislative session will be busy, but this crisis, which not only affects Dallas but other Texas cities, must be resolved. Go to taxpayersforafairpension.org. Join us and share these concerns with legislators in Austin immediately.