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Abbott Criticizes Dallas Leaders For Police & Fire Pension Problems

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AUSTIN (CBS11) - Texas Governor Greg Abbott had sharp criticism for Dallas city leaders who are trying to save the police and fire pension system which could go broke in the next ten years.

During an interview in the Governor's mansion library, Mr. Abbott said, "They are in this situation they are in because they have irresponsibly kicked the can down the road for decades, and now the city of Dallas is in the straits they're in. But the message is, they need to fix this."

In response, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said, "I agree with Governor Abbott that the pension board has kicked this issue down the road. They've put some financial plans in place, invested incorrectly. The Governor knows this is a state fund and the city will do everything to fix it, but it's out of our jurisdiction."

The cash crunch is so bad because police and firefighters withdrew hundreds of millions of dollars of their money from the system for fear it wouldn't be there much longer.

To stop the financial bleeding, the pension board recently suspended the lump-sum withdrawals.

The pension system's board of trustees is made up of police officers, firefighters and city council members, who are now working on a solution.

One potential fix, is changing the pension's guaranteed eight percent return on savings accounts, which has created shortfalls.

Before they bring a solution for state lawmakers to approve, Governor Abbott said all parties in the city need to work together. "To make sure they hammer out a deal that's going to be accommodative to all and in a way that begins to fix the pension system."

He said the City of Houston is also trying to fix its cash-starved pension plan as well.

State lawmakers have discussed the situation with Dallas leaders for months now.

The state legislative session begins January 10.

CBS11's interview with Governor Abbott came several hours after President-elect Donald Trump announced that he will nominate former Governor Rick Perry as his Energy Secretary.

Governor Abbott said under Perry's leadership for 14 years, Texas saw unprecedented growth in the energy sector, which created hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Mr. Abbott said he believes Trump's policy of making the U.S. energy independent and Perry's experience will have a positive impact not only on Texas, but the rest of the nation as well.

The Governor said the Trump administration will reverse course from President Obama's policies. "We've had a challenge the past eight years with a President who's been expanding regulations, who's been crushing our economy. Finally, we have leaders like Rick Perry in key positions in the Department of Energy who's going to begin peeling back regulations."

Experts say those regulations have stifled exploration and jobs.

Environmentalists and other critics are expressing concerns the President-elect and his cabinet picks such as Perry and Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma Attorney General tapped to be the next EPA Administrator, will ignore climate change.

Governor Abbott said Wednesday, one of his priorities during the upcoming legislative session are business and property tax cuts.

Republican legislative leaders have also said this is a priority.

Because of lower energy prices and the downturn in the state's energy sector, lawmakers are expecting a tighter budget for the next two years.

The state spends most of its money, tens of billions of dollars, on public schools and social services.

Texas also spends about $1 billion on border security.

The Governor said lawmakers must also make room for the tax cuts. "Both of those tax cuts are very important. The other is whenever we got into a session, we need to remember one thing: every dollar we spend are taxpayer dollars. We don't have any right or ownership to this money. This is the people's money."

The Governor will address lawmakers when they return to the State Capitol on January 10 to begin their work on the next two year budget.

 During the interview, CBS11 also talked to Governor Abbott about the President-elect's criticism of NAFTA, the free trade agreement between the U.S., Mexico and Canada.

 Mr. Trump has said the trade agreement has cost Americans jobs.

 Reports estimate trade between Mexico and Texas employ nearly 400,000 jobs in the state.

The Governor said "Mexico is Texas' largest trade partner and that will continue.  We will continue to have robust between Texas and Mexico.  The President-elect is a businessman.  His legacy is going to be based on whether he's able to continue to grow the economy, continue to create jobs."  

When asked how he would protect the state's trade-related jobs if there were to be any changes made to NAFTA, Governor Abbott said, "I, my office, the state of Texas has a great relationship with the Trump administration.  What the President is calling for is very reasonable and that is fair trade, not unfair trade, so we will continue to have robust trade in a way that ensures that Texas and American businesses are getting their fair share." 

(©2016 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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