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The Brief: Texas cities facing massive pension shortfalls

A new report from the credit rating and financial analysis firm Moody’s identified Texas’s four largest cities as collectively facing $22.6 billion worth of pension fund shortfalls.

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The Big Story

According to a new report from credit rating and financial analysis firm Moody’s, the Lone Star state’s four largest cities — Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio — collectively face $22.6 billion worth of pension fund shortfalls. Here’s the story so far:  

Dallas' police officer and firefighter retirement fund has long been plagued with problems. According to the Dallas Morning News, it lost $196 million in 2014 in “risky real estate investments” during a “disastrous plunge into speculative development ventures.” Last week, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings called for a halt to lump-sum withdrawals from the fund, following what some viewed as a "run on the bank" situation. And on Saturday, city officials announced a plan to save the fund which would target Dallas police and firefighters who got rich from the system.

Houston faces a $10 billion shortfall, according to the report. That amount — fourth-highest in the country — is more than four times that city’s annual operating revenues. However, the city may turn to the public to partially shore up their shortfalls. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner wants to use $1 billion in bonds to infuse that city's funds. According to the Houston Chronicle, Turner recently oversaw a pension reform package that will have to head to the legislature for approval which would partially rely on $1 billion in bonds to solve the problem.

• According to Lauren Willis, a spokeswoman for Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar's office, the “optics aren’t good” for the state if one of its biggest cities has such a fiscal crisis. However, she said that this doesn’t mean further woes in Dallas will financially impact the state. While Rawlings warned of bankruptcy, he said it is not imminent and would likely remain a threat only if benefits aren't cut and financial holes go unfilled. On Friday, a judge allowed a vote on benefit cuts to go forward.

Austin ranked 14th on the Moody’s list with unfunded pension liabilities of $2.7 billion and San Antonio ranked 22nd with a $2.3 billion shortfall. But despite projected pension shortfalls, the two cities maintain AAA ratings from Moody’s — meaning they are judged to be of the highest quality and subject to the lowest level of credit risk.

What We're Reading

(Links below lead to outside websites; content might be behind paywall)

Bled dry: How a hospital died under the care of a Texas doctor, The Dallas Morning News 

Like Pence, Texas won’t release report on Abbott lawsuit strategy, Austin American-Statesman

Miller ready for a call to the Trump team, San Antonio Express-News

Family looks for answers after son's suicide at The Menninger Clinic, Houston Chronicle

In Texas, rhetoric vs. reality amid wave of Central Americans, Austin American-Statesman 

Today in TribTalk

"For decades, El Pasoans have been working to preserve 7,000 acres in Castner Range. It's time the rest of Texas understood why this piece of land should matter to us all and how national monument status will protect it."

— Elizabeth Doyel, Executive director, Texas League of Conservation Voters

Trib Events for the Calendar

•   A Conversation with Sen.-elect Dawn Buckingham & Rep.-elect Hugh Shine on Dec. 8 at Temple College – Arnold Student Union

•   Health Care and the 85th Legislature on Dec. 15 at UT Health Science Center San Antonio - Pestana Lecture Hall

•   Trivia Night on Jan. 8 at The Highball 

•   A Conversation with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Jan. 11 at The Austin Club 

•   A Conversation with Reps. Dustin Burrows & Drew Darby on Jan. 19 at Howard College – West Texas Training Center

•   A Conversation with Sen. Kel Seliger & Rep. Brooks Landgraf on Feb. 17 at Odessa College – Saulsbury Campus Center

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