A group of big city mayors, dubbed the “M-10,” have come out strong lately against a number of legislative proposals to do everything from provide property tax relief to strengthen private property rights to roll back certain California-style regulations. The crux of the group’s argument is that local officials know best how to govern their cities and state lawmakers should “leave our local control alone.”
For as outspoken as the M-10’s been on the importance of self-governance, it’s been oddly quiet on a major public policy issue in its own backyard where local control has been willingly ceded to Austin lawmakers—state-governed local pension plans.
Over the years, more than a dozen municipal retirement systems in 7 major metropolitans have successfully petitioned the legislature to put some or all of their pension plans in state statute. The most common plan elements to be put in state law include: “contribution rates, benefit levels, and the composition of their board of trustees,” according to the Pension Review Board.
By putting their pension plans in state law, these retirement systems have effectively locked out community stakeholders without the right political connections in Austin.
To be fair, these systems aren’t directly controlled by cities themselves—but that’s not to say they don’t have any input. In many cases, city officials are members of these systems’ Board of Trustees. Take the Austin Firefighters Relief & Retirement Fund, for example, which features Austin Mayor Stephen Adler and City Treasurer Art Alfaro on its Board. One wonders: Have they voiced opposition to state control of this particular pension plan at their meetings? Have any of the others? (see pg. 89)
Source: Texas Pension Review Board
And it’s not like there haven’t been opportunities for these officials to get reform done. During the last legislative session, conservative groups, including the Texas Public Policy Foundation, tried in vain to restore local control of state-governed pension plans. But the reform effort failed, in part, because conservatives couldn’t find any high-profile city officials willing to take a public stand.
So the question becomes: Does the M-10 support local control of local retirement systems or are they just trying to have their cake and eat it too?