Dallas Faces Pension-Led Bankruptcy from Police & Fire Pensions Request
In testimony to state regulators, Dallas reported that a Police & Fire pensions request for $1.1 billion would wipe out the city's entire general fund.
NEW YORK TIMES
By Mary Williams Walsh
DALLAS — Picture the next major American city to go bankrupt. What springs to mind? Probably not the swagger and sprawl of Dallas.
But there was Dallas’s mayor, Michael S. Rawlings, testifying this month to a state oversight board that his city appeared to be “walking into the fan blades” of municipal bankruptcy.
“It is horribly ironic,” he said.
Indeed. Dallas has the fastest economic growth of the nation’s 13 largest cities. Its streets hum with supersize cars and its skyline bristles with cranes. Its mayor is a former chief executive of Pizza Hut. Hundreds of multinational corporations have chosen Dallas for their headquarters, most recently Jacobs Engineering, which is moving to low-tax Texas from pricey Pasadena, Calif.
But under its glittering surface, Dallas has a problem that could bring it to its knees, and that could be an early test of America’s postelection commitment to safe streets and tax relief: The city’s pension fund for its police officers and firefighters is near collapse and seeking an immense bailout.
Over six recent weeks, panicked Dallas retirees have pulled $220 million out of the fund. What set off the run was a recommendation in July that the retirees no longer be allowed to take out big blocks of money. Even before that, though, there were reports that the fund’s investments — some placed in highly risky and speculative ventures — were worth less than previously stated.
What is happening in Dallas is an extreme example of what’s happening in many other places around the country. Elected officials promised workers solid pensions years ago, on the basis of wishful thinking rather than realistic expectations. Dallas’s troubles have become more urgent because its plan rules let some retirees take big withdrawals.
Now, the Dallas Police and Fire Pension System has asked the city for a one-time infusion of $1.1 billion, an amount roughly equal to Dallas's entire general fund budget but not even close to what the pension fund needs to be fully funded. Nothing would be left for fighting endemic poverty south of the Trinity River, for public libraries, or for giving current police officers and firefighters a raise.