Sunday, April 04, 2010

For Real (So Far)

After catching the public speakers’ portion of the 3-30-10 Houston City Council meet-up on the access channel,* we were moved to wonder why the mayor’s unilateral move to increase the insurance payments of under-65 municipal retirees hasn’t occasioned more comment and commentary, especially from Our Town’s legions of conservative bloggers and the other vociferous gum-beaters of the blogosphere,** for whom public employees and public-employee unions are generally bête noire, generally speaking. (We, of course, expected absolutely nothing from the likes of the Sexiest Blogger in Houston,*** or Most Influential-est and Boring-est Block-Quoter in the Western Hemisphere, whatever, and we have not been disappointed, although this wily old vato, who was briefly in the employ of the mayor's runoff opponent last year, did weigh-in from the port side with an appreciative acknowledgement of the mayor's bulls-by-the-horn approach. We know it's early, but we expect to see at least one and possibly more pro-Parker op-ed pieces by erstwhile mayoral would-be Bill King (checking his Web site, we see ... nada, but as we said it's still early).

We are not saying here that he mayor was absolutely 100-percent right in this move (and how could such an unpalatable action be "right"?), 'cause we don't have enough information to issue such a snap judgment, especially on the, um, complex political ramifications, not to mention the financial ones. We must admit that we did blanch a bit, in sympathy, as several under-65 and able-bodied (or at least able-bodied enough to get to the microphone in council chambers) ex-city workers bewailed the extremely large increases they'll be forced to bear in their monthly payments –– one guy said his were in the neighborhood of $700+ –– but then the il’ dude inside us who hut-huts along like either John Calvin or Edmund Burke (he dresses like a city employee –– a cop!) came a'strolling, twirling his nightstick and wondering, "Who but a public employee could afford to retire well before 65 in this day and age?"**** and "How many dependents are you carrying there on your policy?" Council members Clarence Bradford and Wanda Adams, especially the former, raised concerns about the mayor's action, which, if we can interpret their meanings within the broad confines of necessary council collegiality, seemed to imply that the mayor had been high-handed and not sharing information with them. The mayor, we noticed, did not flinch.

So we have some predictions here: No. 1.) Expect the public bonhomie and good feeling and general unanimity of the White Era City Council to be a thing of the past, a development that will be the direct result of No. 2.), and that is: This mayor apparently came into office prepared to actually do stuff.

*In case you were wondering, we heard District F Councilman Al Hoang say nothing stupid or needlessly insulting during the part of the meeting we saw –– in fact we could not tell whether Hoang was actually present and accounted for.

**We would also paint local conservative talk radio with this possibly unwarranted broad brush, except that we rarely listen to any of it.

***Who was see is actually encouraging people –– or a person, to be exact –– to move away from Houston, but presumably only after he's returned his Census form.

***The aggrieved retirees we saw all looked to be of our vintage, mid-range Baby Boomers. One, who seemed to be a friend of the mayor, spent an unusually large portion of his allotted minutes congratulating her and the council for various unspecified fiscal accomplishments.


Ubu roi said...

Well, I for one, am not retired, before 65 or otherwise. I could be in four more years, but who the hell can afford to retire? Not like the pension is going to be there, given how badly the city's under paying.

Yes we get a pension (maybe...), and a lot of other folks don't. However, it's based on what we made while working, which was spit -- except for the top dogs and council aides, who somehow end up near the top end of their respective pay grade ranges.

The Fishing Musician said...

Excellent post, Slampo. I am a public employee, and just wish I worked for one of the cities in Texas that has great retirement plans. My gubment retirement plan is ok, but I'll be working past 65doing something, God willing.

I can retire in a couple of years. I'd like to retire, take a month off, and then resume my current job and start a new retirement whilst drawing the old one and the new one. Sock away some more college money for the kids and some more for us.

Many of my older friends have already done this, retiring from their primary job and then returning to either the same job or a similar one for a different governmental entity.

I think, unless you are ultra rich from your work or family rich or successful at being crooked, that very few people will be retiring at 55 or even 65.

I wonder if my kids, or even me, will ever actually REALLY retire.

Rorschach said...

Slampo, the simple fact of the matter is that the Democrats that have been running the city into the ground have left the city broke. The city doesn't have the money to subsidize the insurance anymore, especially after they shot their wad on art that never gets delivered, and hybrid vehicles that cost 65% more to own and operate than a comparable gasoline vehicle. Why is having to pay your bills a conservative issue?
I for one have been talking about how broke the city is and how badly the budget has been mangled by Bill White (among others) for years. Hell, The Chronicle even published an editorial that Jay Wall and I wrote that touched on this subject not long ago.

Is this an ideal solution? No, but it beats the hell out of dropping the insurance and pension payouts alltogether, which might still have to happen if Parker continues to drive the city's finances off a cliff.

Slampo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Slampo said...

Senor Rorschach,
Don't believe I said, or meant to say, that "paying your bills" is a conservative issue. What I said, or intended to say, is that I was surprised by the lack of acknowledgement, if not applause, for the mayor by conservative bloggers, etc., and not surprised by the same from liberals. Dressing yourself up in an op-ed piece and strutting down the street is easy, actually doing something unpopular, as Parker did, is another story. I mean, she certainly pissed off the affected retirees, who are an active lot, at least those who live in the city, and it's not like she can use this in a re-election campaign: "Dramatically increased health insurance costs paid by municipal retirees" just won't fly as a TV commercial tagline, will it? Bradford the op-ed writer may be right, and it was "grossly unconscionable" to place such a burden on one subset of ex-workers, but as the mayor seemed to be asking, What's he really got? (More city involvement in after-school programs, for one.) Y'know, taking stuff away from people is about the last thing a politician wants to do, because basically what most people want from government is to be given stuff (as do I).

Rorschach said...

After re-reading my comment I realize I was perhaps unclear and unfair to Parker. So far Parker has mostly been fairly tight with budgetary issues. That said, she WAS the comptroller under Bill "bleed the taxpayer" White and said nary a word about his spending habits. In fact when Bill King pointed out that the city was spending like a drunken sailor (no offense intended to drunken sailors!) and was having to supplement general revenues with reserves, she was quick to stand up and insist that the budget was "balanced" even though the city was clearly spending more than it was bringing in, which is the textbook definition of "unbalanced" in more ways than one. The Comptroller's job is to say no when the word is warranted. She never did.

So I'm willing to give her some rope on fiscal issues for now, but rest assured, I'm watching.

BTW, she announced (a long expected!) major rate increase for water and sewer rates today. This won't be the last of that sort of thing either I would expect.

Kevin Whited said...

Heh, Bill King is reading ya! ;)

Slampo said...

King's piece was a clearly written exposition of the issue and well-timed, too, as I noticed Bradford, who's certainly turned out to be an interesting presence on the council (about as far as I can go at present, altho I do admire his terse, machine-gun-like delivery) ) was raising the matter again last week, after a bunch of retirees again appeared before council asking it to do something (and it's hard not to be sympathetic, although I gotta draw the line at the guy the previous week who was lamenting how he'd have to switch from the PPO to the HMO--boo hoo). Anyway, I would expect--and hope--that when King thinks the mayor is wrong he'd take issue in the same reasoned and temperate manner.