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Austin firefighters donate to protect pensions

Wednesday, January 13, 2021 by Jo Clifton

The political action committee for Austin firefighters was busy the last month of 2020, donating more than $50,000 to Texas lawmakers. Their donations included $10,000 to Rep. Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont), who was elected Tuesday to be speaker of the Texas House, and $5,000 to Gov. Greg Abbott.

Bob Nicks, president of the Austin Firefighters Association, told the Austin Monitor, “It’s just a long-term plan we have to make sure we have relationships with people” in the Legislature “to make sure our pension stays protected.” Firefighters and other first responders worry that the Legislature will change the rules for retirees, reducing their pensions or making them work longer.

“Some things get filed every year,” he said, that try “to eliminate the independence of pensions. That’s why we give money to Republicans and Democrats in the state Senate.”

In December, Austin firefighters donated $5,000 each to Republican Sens. Charles Perry of Lubbock, Bryan Hughes of Mineola and Democrat Judith Zaffirini, whose Senate district stretches from South Austin to Laredo. César Blanco (D-El Paso) received $3,000 as did Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe). The PAC also gave $2,000 each to Republican Reps. Doc Anderson of Waco and Charlie Geren of Fort Worth.

Nicks did not express any particular concern about legislation to eliminate the independence of Austin firefighters’ pensions this year. However, he said his union might be interested in legislation that would provide an exception to the 3.5 percent property tax cap enacted by the Legislature in 2019. The exception would apply in instances where a fire department was found to be deficient in meeting a national standard, he said, stressing that no decision had been made about pursuing such legislation.

Other firefighter PAC donations include $1,000 to San Antonio Sen. José Menéndez and Houston Rep. Senfronia Thompson, both Democrats. The group donated $1,000 each to Rep. Hugh Shine (R-Temple), Rep. Drew Darby, (R-San Angelo), Rep. John Cyrier (R-Lockhart), and Rep. Ryan Guillen (D-Rio Grande City).

Also receiving $1,000 contributions in December were Austin Reps. Sheryl Cole, Gina Hinojosa, Vikki Goodwin, Donna Howard, and Eddie Rodriguez, all Democrats. Nicks said the group had also donated to Austin Rep. Celia Israel, also a Democrat, but the donation was not in the paperwork submitted to City Clerk Jannette Goodall. The firefighters PAC also donated $10,000 to newly elected state Sen. Sarah Eckhardt in October and $5,000 to Rep. Drew Springer (R-Muenster) on Nov. 23.

Springer won his new Senate seat in a special election in December. Nicks said firefighters had donated about $36,000 overall to Springer, knowing he has been a strong supporter of firefighters. He added that he has worked with Springer on wildfire issues and became friends with him. Nicks was committed enough to Springer’s election that he went up to North Texas to walk door-to-door to turn out the vote for him, he said.

In addition to other donations, the December PAC report shows that Austin firefighters donated $500 to Rep. Four Price (R-Amarillo), as well as Reps. Phil King (R-Weatherford) and Lyle Larson (R-San Antonio).

Council members Alison Alter and Jimmy Flannigan each received $400 from the PAC, the maximum allowable under city ordinance, for the December runoff election. Alter won her race.

The Austin Monitor’s work is made possible by donations from the community. Though our reporting covers donors from time to time, we are careful to keep business and editorial efforts separate while maintaining transparency. A complete list of donors is available here, and our code of ethics is explained here.

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