House PIFS, Senate Finance Meet to Discuss COLA Bills

Executive Summary: 

  • TRTA supports HB 600 and SB 10, both of which would provide retirees with a COLA and a supplemental payment.
  • TRTA is continuing to work with legislators to help as many retirees as possible, in the biggest way possible.
  • There is a strong desire from both chambers to meaningfully help retirees this session!
  • The upcoming weeks of legislative activity will be critical to determining what kind of benefit enhancement legislators decide on. TRTA members need to stay active and engaged in the process. 
  • Be sure to tune in on Thursday, March 23 at 4 p.m. CST on Facebook and YouTube as Tim Lee discusses these bills and ongoing conversations.
  • Don’t forget to RSVP for TRTA Day at the Capitol on April 12!

On Wednesday, March 22, the House Pensions, Investments, and Financial Services (PIFS) Committee met to discuss House Bill 600. The Senate Finance Committee also met to discuss Senate Bill 10. Both bills propose financial relief in the form of cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) and supplemental payments for annuitants of the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS).

TRTA Executive Director Tim Lee testified at both committee meetings. To read an overview of both bills as proposed, please read this Inside Line update from March 11.

House PIFS Discusses HB 600

Representative Greg Bonnen (R – Friendswood), Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, laid out the rationale for HB 600. He described retired teachers as being “critically important” to Texas. He also said that the TRS pension fund has been a “challenge” over the years.

Bonnen said that his bill would accomplish two goals. The first goal would be to provide an ongoing process of providing retired educators with COLAs. Thus, retirees wouldn’t have to come back every legislative session asking for help. The second goal would be to secure the stability of the pension fund and create a path to paying off its unfunded liabilities.

HB 600 includes a tiered COLA based on number of years a TRS retiree has been retired, ranging from 6% down to 2%. The bill also includes an ongoing gain share COLA which would range between 1 and 2%.

“(It’s) something we’ve never done before with this pension . . . to try and provide some kind of ongoing adjustment,” Bonnen said.

The gain share COLA would be based on the five-year investment return average of the pension fund. The bill proposes a strategy, created with the advice of TRS actuaries, that would have the state make legacy payments on the unfunded liability of the fund until it is eliminated.

Bonnen stated the intent was to “get out of this loop where retirees are stuck with a fixed monthly check,” and also develop “a long-term strategy to make the fund sound and eliminate debt.”

HB 600 would also include a $5,000 supplemental payment for TRS retirees aged 70 or older and proposes increases in active member and state contributions to the fund, raising them to 9%. The constitutional maximum is 10%.

Bonnen emphasized the intent of the bill is to “help those who have the least the most,” adding that “those who have been retired the longest are in the greatest need.”

Tim Lee testified for HB 600, saying that inflation is a great threat that has reduced retirement security for TRS retirees.

“All retirees have been impacted,” Lee said. He estimated that retirees have lost “anywhere between 14 and 34 percent of their purchasing power.”

This terrible cycle has caused many TRS retirees to lose hope. “It’s like quicksand,” said Lee.

Lee reminded the committee members that TRS retirees count on their pension as their primary source of income and that most have not benefitted from the COLAs provided to Social Security (SS) beneficiaries, as their SS benefits are eliminated or drastically reduced by the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and Government Pension Offset (GPO).

“Now is the time to start putting our support to provide stability to retirees’ financial position,” said Lee.

Along with HB 600, the PIFS Committee also discussed HJR 2, which proposes a constitutional amendment authorizing the Legislature to provide one-time or ongoing benefit enhancements to eligible TRS annuitants, including a one-time transfer of funds for that purpose.

This resolution was filed in conjunction with HB 600.  According to how HB 600 is currently written, the constitutional amendment and authorization must be approved by Texas voters to become effective.

HJR 2 would be on the November 7, 2023 ballot if HB 600 passes.
If HB 600 passes, but the constitutional amendment and authorization fail to pass in November, the bill and all its components will not go into effect.

Tim Lee testified on HJR 2. He said that the bill creates “a level of uncertainty” due to the state never having done anything like this before for a TRS benefit enhancement bill.

Lee expressed that TRTA is engaged with Representative Bonnen on the questions that are being asked by TRTA members about this facet of the proposal and will continue to work with him.

Both HB 600 and HJR 2 were left pending in committee.

Senate Finance Discusses SB 10

Senate Finance Chair Joan Huffman (R – Houston), who is the primary author of SB 10 alongside all 31 members of the Senate, laid out the bill, calling it one of the Senate’s priority bills.

Huffman reminded the committee members that supplemental checks were provided to TRS retirees during the last two legislative sessions, but that SB 10 would “provide a COLA to all eligible TRS retirees.”

The bill also proposes a $7,500 stipend for TRS retirees aged 75 and older. Huffman stated that these retirees “in all likelihood had a lower salary,” adding that “our most vulnerable retirees are struggling to pay bills.” If passed, SB 10 would provide this payment to 186,000 retirees.

The bill proposes a 2% COLA for 176,000 annuitants (TRS retirees who retired between September 1, 2013 and December 31, 2021) and a 4% COLA for 270,000 annuitants (TRS retirees who retired before September 1, 2013).

Huffman noted that the Legislature would appropriate nearly $4.7 billion from general revenue to pay for these benefit enhancements and would not require state or active educator contribution increases.

“Many TRS retirees have been struggling financially for far too long,” said Huffman. “These are not lavish retirement benefits…they are critical to hundreds of thousands of Texans and their families.”
Chair Huffman made a special point to thank all 31 Texas State Senators who have signed on as co-authors of SB 10.

Tim Lee testified in favor of SB 10, thanking Huffman for being a champion for TRS. He noted again that inflation is “a great enemy” for TRS retirees.

Lee added that TRTA is grateful to have a seat at the table as this bill is discussed, and he expressed true appreciation to Lt. Governor Dan Patrick for being involved on this issue and for making the needs of TRS retirees a Senate priority.

“Our voice is being heard and our words are being put into action,” said Lee.

TRTA plans to continue working with Senator Huffman as the bill continues through the legislative process. The bill was left pending in committee.

Huffman also laid out SCR 28, a resolution urging Congress to repeal the Government Pension Offset (GPO) and the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) of the Social Security Act. This is similar to a resolution filed in the Texas House by Representative Abel Herrero, HCR 20. You can read TRTA’s report about HCR 20 in this Inside Line.

The effect of the GPO and WEP on Texas “is more acute,” said Huffman. In part, this is because 96% of school district employees in Texas do not pay into SS. This also affects public service employees such as firefighters and police officers.

“These two provisions continue to unfairly penalize careers in public service,” said Huffman.

Tim Lee testified for SCR 28. He explained that if the GPO and WEP were gone, it would be easier to provide financial relief for TRS retirees.

These two federal provisions affect public service retirees disproportionately with arbitrary formulas. “We are taking money away from retirees who earned it,” said Lee.

Lee said taking this resolution to the Texas congressional delegation makes an impact, letting U.S. Senators and Representatives know that the Texas Legislature supports full repeal of these harmful provisions.

Tim Lee Live on Facebook and YouTube Thursday, March 23

Tim Lee, the Texas Retired Teachers Association’s (TRTA) Executive Director, will be live on Facebook and YouTube on March 23 at 4:00 p.m. Central.

Lee will update TRTA members on the various committee meetings that were held this week, and what comes next in the legislative process to ensure passage of a bill to provide financial relief for TRS retirees.

Reminder: RSVP for TRTA Day at the Capitol!

TRTA is marching on the Texas Capitol grounds on Wednesday, April 12, with thousands of retirees ready to rally for a COLA! If you want to attend this day of grassroots advocacy and make your voice heard and get your legislators thinking about you, then make a plan to join us on April 12! RSVP here.

Don’t miss this great opportunity to band together with your fellow retirees. If you want to talk to your legislators about how important it is that TRS retirees receive much-needed financial help this session, this then conversation is about you!

Thank You

Thank you for your membership to TRTA. We are fighting ardently for your benefits every day at the Capitol. If you are not yet a TRTA member, please join here.

Be sure to like us on Facebookfollow us on Twitter and subscribe to our YouTube channel.

Related News