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11 May
0

Texas House Pensions Committee Meets, Discusses Funding For TRS-Care and TRS Pension Plan

The Texas House Pensions Committee met yesterday in Dallas to discuss the status of the Teacher Retirement System’s (TRS) pension plan and TRS-Care. The committee reviewed the changes that occurred last session to TRS-Care and discussed the funding issues surrounding the retiree health care program, which is expected to have a shortfall in excess of $400 million during the 2019 biennium.

TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie provided testimony about the funding needs of TRS-Care. He discussed how the program had undergone significant changes since the end of the Legislature’s Special Session. However, the changes made last session will still leave the plan in a significant funding shortfall when the Legislature reconvenes in 2019.

Guthrie informed the committee that TRS-Care would continue to require additional funding into the future as the program’s funding is based on active teacher payroll, not health care costs.

Rep. Dan Huberty (R – Houston) recounted how a previous proposal during the 2017 legislative session would have covered the pending shortfall. He also brought to the attention of the other legislators how much money the state continued to put into both TRS-Care and the TRS pension fund.

Guthrie said that the combined amount TRS will ask for in its Legislative Appropriations Request (LAR), provided that it moves the rate of return assumption to 7.5 percent, will be approximately $2 billion.

The audience reacted to Guthrie’s testimony twice with applause. One round of applause occurred when Guthrie mentioned how other states have combined the public education personnel into the state workers’ retirement plans. Another round of applause occurred when Phil Stephenson (R – Wharton) said that the state needed to do a better job funding TRS and its programs.

Guthrie’s testimony was not a reflection of a TRS position on combining Texas TRS retirees and ERS retirees; it was, though mentioned as a way that other states with smaller populations combine worker and retiree pools to have a larger purchasing pool when procuring group coverage.

As TRTA members know, Texas has a separate health care system for its state workers. Both TRS (teachers) and ERS (state workers and legislators) are large enough pools on their own to negotiate lower rates without combining the two groups.

The TRS-Care plan has twice as many covered lives as the ERS retiree health care plan. However, the ERS health care plan’s base funding for retirees is higher than TRS-Care’s. In 2017, the state funded $930 million for state retirees. Whereas, TRS-Care’s base funding is $660 million, so TRS-Care receives less funding for twice as many participants.

The funding for retired state workers allows the state ERS health care program to be offered at no cost to state employee retirees. Dependent coverage is subsidized at 50 percent.

TRTA has never suggested, and never would suggest, that retired state employees, judges, legislators or other ERS retires should see a reduction in their health care benefits. On the contrary, we believe all public workers should receive access to affordable and reasonable health care as part of their retirement security.

Tim Lee, TRTA Executive Director, testified that the benchmark for retired educator health care is the ERS health care plan.

“We know many may have an issue with calling a retired educator a retired state worker. Our view does not validate that argument as either right or wrong; however, the bottom line is that the Legislature is in absolute control over the funding levels for TRS-Care. Using teacher payroll as a basis for funding is a broken system,” Lee said. “In order to keep TRS-Care viable and solvent, we need to work with legislators on increasing the base funding for TRS-Care. If we do not raise base funding, TRS-Care will continue to have ongoing shortfalls and retirees will not be able to cover the increased costs.”

Retired educators are aware that our dedicated state employees and state retirees receive much higher health care appropriations. The biggest differentiator between TRS and ERS is that the amount of money appropriated to ERS health care is based on COST, and TRS health care funding is based on a percentage of active teacher payroll. Teacher payroll is in no way tied to health care cost increases. TRS-Care cannot be “fixed” unless the base funding is increased, or if the legislature ties TRS-Care appropriations to the cost of care like it does for ERS.

Lee’s invited testimony focused on how only by working as a team could the Legislature and stakeholders address the funding concerns for TRS-Care.

Lee reviewed how the costs for health care didn’t go away after last session but were simply paid for by increasing the financial burden on the retirees, the legislature, and the school districts.

“The rising cost of health care is a big problem. The cost of health care is the enemy, and virtually nothing is left to be done to truly reduce costs” Lee said. “Our members have taken on as much as they can afford.”

More than 100 people were in attendance for the Pensions Committee meeting. Much of the audience was comprised of TRTA members from District 10 and 11. There were even some TRTA members from Brownsville, Texas, which is 544 miles away.

A common theme among the TRTA members in attendance was a desire to work with the legislators to be a part of the solution.

One of the public commenters who provided testimony was Pat Enlow. Enlow serves as the local president for TRTA’s Carrolton-Farmers Branch Retired School Personnel Association. Enlow testified about how vital it is for the Texas Legislature to provide additional funding for the TRS pension, as the TRS Board of Trustees makes its decision on whether to lower the rate of return assumption.

The TRS Board of Trustees is expected to make a decision on changing its rate of return assumption during its July meeting, and it will likely result in lowering the rate of return assumption from its current state, 8 percent.

Statement from Tim Lee to TRTA Members:

Thank you for reading this update. If you had the chance to watch yesterday’s hearing, you may have seen how frustrating this subject matter can be for our members and for the decision makers.

We have many legislator friends who want to help us. Our communication efforts will be most effective if we encourage positive communication.

What I want to assure each of you is this, we are being made a part of the process to help improve these situations. House Pensions Chair Dan Flynn (R – Canton) and Senate State Affairs Chair Joan Huffman (R – Houston) both allowed TRTA to have a seat at the table and bring invited testimony to important committee hearings. We appreciate their interest and leadership in working on these difficult issues.

We are always going to work for you. We know many of you are struggling to afford your health care. Many elected officials are contacting TRTA and learning more about what else we can do to improve the situation. You are not forgotten, and your struggle is very real to TRTA and to the people we are working with to make this better.

The road ahead of us is long and difficult, but I know you are helping us make a difference. Thank you for your support! Your communication and membership are vital. Our strength is our member support. Please know, we will never stop working for you!

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04 May
0

House Pensions Committee to Meet in Dallas May 10

House Pensions Committee to Meet in Dallas May 10

The Texas House Pensions Committee is scheduled to meet in Dallas on Thursday, May 10 and will discuss a variety of issues pertinent to Texas public education retirees.

The Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) encourages any and all members living in the Dallas area to attend the meeting if possible. Issues being discussed on this day include the immediate and long-term solvency and plan design of TRS-Care and TRS Active-Care health insurance plans, as well as ways to improve defined benefit pension plans. To view a full meeting agenda, please click here.

The meeting will be held at Dallas City Hall in Council Chambers, located at 1500 Marilla Street, Dallas, Texas 75201. The meeting will begin at 10:00 a.m. and is projected to last at least until 3:00 p.m.

While we understand many retirees may not be able to attend the meeting for the entire day, your presence at the meeting is very valuable and any time you could dedicate to this event is appreciated and makes a difference. It is vital that legislators hear from retirees impacted by recent health care changes and potential changes to the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) pension trust fund.

TRTA also understands that not all attendees will want to provide public testimony but wants you to know that your presence is just as valuable. Putting a face to very real issues facing retirees today helps legislators as they make the decisions that impact your future.

Thank for all you do as a member of TRTA to protect retirement security for all public education retirees in Texas!

Texas House Pensions Committee Hearing
Thursday, May 10, 2018 10:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m.
Dallas City Hall, Council Chambers
1500 Marilla Street
Dallas, Texas 75201

Thank You

TRTA and its members have the respect of both congressmen and legislators. Your membership is making a difference as we lobby here in Texas and at the U.S. Capitol. We will continue to bring you the latest updates on all issues involving retired educators.

Be sure to like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and subscribe to our YouTube channel.

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26 Apr
0

Texas Primary Runoff Races to Watch!

A Letter From TRTA Executive Director Tim Lee:

Dear TRTA members, supporters and friends,

The information you have below is a great explanation of why you should vote and where you can find information about candidates. Many people who see this information may feel incredibly frustrated. Many people just want one simple answer to the statement: “just tell me who to vote for.”

Well, here is the deal: TRTA does not endorse candidates. Even if I personally wanted to answer your question, TRTA does not endorse and I cannot tell who to vote for.

I knew you’d be frustrated when I said that, but before you stop reading, I want to challenge you to ask three people in your area who they are voting for. I am certain you will get an answer to your question! There are some very wealthy and well-connected people who are hoping that you just give up and do not vote. They love that you are frustrated and less interested in these elections.

TRTA truly believes our issues are not partisan. We believe our members are a diverse cross-culture of voters with many personal interests and views, but that protecting and improving their retirement benefits is not defined by partisan politics.

This is where the extremely partisan groups who work only for party “purity” or partisan gains at any cost have so much more bluster than groups like TRTA. While we believe in working with everyone to achieve the best results, the purity and party groups attack anyone who chooses not to agree with them. Most of the time, this negative activity results in ugly campaigning.

Opponents Of Public Education Are Hoping That You Won’t Vote

Unfortunately, many of these people and interest groups want to see your pensions reduced and your health care changed. They would rather take away the promise of future benefits for education employees.

These interest groups and well-connected, politically savvy people are COUNTING on you not to show up at the polls. Their entire strategy seems to be designed around discouraging well-intentioned, hard-working, rock-solid communities from being motivated to vote.

By now, you know that there are many interests that would do much better if pensions, health care, and our schools were privatized. You and your family, friends and colleagues, and school children across the state may not be better off, but the special interests that want to keep you away from the polls will be richer and happier if you don’t vote.

So, while I cannot tell you who to vote for, I will tell you that if you want to make a difference for yourself, if you want to see retired and active educators feared and respected and appreciated as a group, you must vote in EVERY election. Especially runoffs!

Why Does My Vote Matter?

Voting is all that matters right now. Voting is power. We can either claim that power as our own and send people to elected office who want to help us, or we give that power away to people who want to see your benefits put on the table.

There are some VERY tight elections this runoff season. Your vote may be all that is needed to have a friend in office. Sitting in the sidelines allows that friend to be pushed away for someone else who may be less inclined to help retirees.

We need every TRTA member talking about the runoffs. When the runoffs are over, we will need every single TRTA member talking about voting in the General Election in November.

The battles for better healthcare and properly funded pensions are being waged right now! Truthfully, an order to “stand down” never gets signaled. This fight is non-stop, always present and all-consuming. The legislative session is just one piece of this campaign. The real differences on our issues are realized in the ballot box every election cycle. Ground is claimed and defended during every primary, every runoff and every general election.

If you believe our ability to win on the issues that matter most to you are defined by the legislative session, let me assure you that’s only half the battle, and it’s the last half of the battle. The battlefield always begins during the elections process!

What You Can Do

Elections have consequences. If you live in a runoff area, PLEASE make a plan to vote. If you do not know who to vote for, call your local TRTA members and ask them. I am positive someone in your area knows who these candidates are and what they think about our issues. You can click here to find out information about our TRTA local units in your area. Call people and ask who they are voting for and why. I know they will be happy to share their opinions. If you know the candidate that you are voting for, contact your fellow retirees and inform them of the importance of voting for the candidate.

You can also look at all the other resources TRTA is providing from our friends in the active educator community. This information is being provided so you can see what active teacher organizations and other groups friendly to our cause are saying. Some endorse, some do not. These are not TRTA’s comments but are shared so you can have more insight.

While we are providing the information for your benefit, I still believe the best way to get this information is by calling a friend, sending them an email or checking their social media feeds.

Runoffs are about turnout. Very few Texans are registered to vote, far fewer actually show up and do it. Legislative agendas are defined by those who win their elections. Elections are won because people went to the ballot box and voted for someone to represent their interests.

The only question is, what interests will show up at the polls in the upcoming runoffs? Will you be there? If you want TRS-Care and your pension benefits to be a top priority this coming session, go hire the people you want to do the job. Otherwise, you may not like who is working against you and not for you!

If elected officials know they will be held accountable at the voting booths, your concerns will be given more attention during the legislative session. These elections are so close, I have no doubt that your vote will pay dividends for us as we fight for you in the Texas Capitol.

It’s time for action. It’s time to vote!

Sincerely,

Tim Lee

Executive Director

Texas Retired Teachers Association

Texas Primary Runoff Races to Watch!

As the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) recently reported, the Texas Primary Election Runoffs are being held soon, and your vote holds tremendous power at this critical time! Below, TRTA features a list of all races for the Texas Legislature facing a Primary Runoff and lists the candidates competing for the specified party’s nomination. (For a complete list of all Primary Election results for statewide and congressional races, please click here).

If you are not sure what Texas Senate or Texas House district you reside in, please click here to find out.

Please also remember the following:

  • Even if you did not vote in the first round of Primary Elections, you can still vote in the Runoff Election – and it is IMPORTANT that you DO!
  • You can vote in the Republican Runoff as long as you did not vote in the Democrat Primary.
  • You can vote in the Democrat Runoff as long as you did not vote in the Republican Primary.
  • If you did not vote in the first round of Primary Elections, you may vote in either Runoff Election.
  • VOTE-BY-MAIL deadline: The County Clerk must receive applications by Friday, May 11.
  • EARLY VOTING: Monday, May 14 through Friday, May 18 (five days only!) Make a plan now to VOTE EARLY and avoid the long lines on election day.
  • ELECTION DAY for Primary Runoff: Tuesday, May 22 at the precinct where you are registered to vote.

How Do I Determine Who to Vote For?

TRTA does not endorse candidates for political office. However, we encourage you to ask your fellow retirees who they are voting for and why.

TRTA also recommends researching candidates using the following resources:

  • http://www.txparentpac.com/Texas Parent Pac’s website will feature endorsements as they are released in the coming weeks.
  • Candidates Themselves Are the BEST Resource! If you’re not sure where a candidate stands, you should always feel like you can call and ask them! Reach out to candidates through their websites, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, email, and by phone. Always be courteous and ask them to tell you where they stand on issues affecting Texas public education retirees and education issues in general.
  • https://www.texansforpubliceducation.com/The Texans for Public Education website, and associated Facebook page, ranks candidates as friendly, unfriendly, or neutral regarding education and retirement issues.
  • https://apps.texastribune.org/2018-texas-primary-candidates/The Texas Tribune is a non-profit news publication. This list contains all primary candidates for both parties.
  • Read candidate statements from Gregg Abbott, Andrew White and Mike Collier.
  • http://www.vote411.org/The Texas League of Women Voters site allows you to find your polling place, build a ballot based on where you live and vote, and includes a non-partisan voter guide on every candidate.
  • https://www.teachthevote.org/The Association of Texas Professional Educators (ATPE) site is non-partisan, specific to education issues, and allows you to view candidates by legislative district as well as statewide candidates. The site includes voting records and candidate surveys on education issues.

Below, TRTA features a list of all races for the Texas Legislature facing a Primary Runoff and lists the candidates competing for the specified party’s nomination. (For a complete list of all Primary Election results for statewide and congressional races, please click here).

Texas Senate Primary Runoff Races

DISTRICT 17

CANDIDATE VOTES PCT.
RUNOFF
D ✓ Rita Lucido 17,603 48.9%
D ✓ Fran Watson 12,621 35.1
Democratic Primary

Texas House Primary Runoff Races

DISTRICT 4

CANDIDATE VOTES PCT.
RUNOFF
R ✓ Stuart Spitzer 9,376 45.8%
R ✓ Keith Bell 5,367 26.2
Republican Primary

DISTRICT 8

CANDIDATE VOTES PCT.
RUNOFF
R ✓ Cody Harris 8,864 44.9%
R ✓ Thomas McNutt 7,786 39.5
Republican Primary

DISTRICT 13

CANDIDATE VOTES PCT.
RUNOFF
R ✓ Jill Wolfskill 8,874 38.5%
R ✓ Ben Leman 8,349 36.2
Republican Primary

DISTRICT 37

CANDIDATE VOTES PCT.
RUNOFF
D ✓ Rene O. Oliveira Incumbent 3,096 48.4%
D ✓ Alex Dominguez 2,329 36.4
Democratic Primary

DISTRICT 45

CANDIDATE VOTES PCT.
RUNOFF
D ✓ Rebecca Bell-Metereau 5,133 45.4%
D ✓ Erin Zwiener 3,466 30.7
Democratic Primary

DISTRICT 46

CANDIDATE VOTES PCT.
RUNOFF
D ✓ Jose “Chito” Vela 6,209 39.6%
D ✓ Sheryl Cole 6,000 38.2
Democratic Primary

DISTRICT 47

CANDIDATE VOTES PCT.
RUNOFF
D ✓ Vikki Goodwin 5,347 33.6%
D ✓ Elaina Fowler 4,651 29.2
Democratic Primary

DISTRICT 54

CANDIDATE VOTES PCT.
RUNOFF
R ✓ Scott Cosper Incumbent 4,472 44.6%
R ✓ Brad Buckley 4,173 41.6
Republican Primary

DISTRICT 62

CANDIDATE VOTES PCT.
RUNOFF
R ✓ Reggie Smith 7,885 45.8%
R ✓ Brent Lawson 5,916 34.3
Republican Primary

DISTRICT 64

CANDIDATE VOTES PCT.
RUNOFF
D ✓ Mat Pruneda 3,063 41.7%
D ✓ Andrew Morris 2,842 38.7
Democratic Primary

DISTRICT 107

CANDIDATE VOTES PCT.
RUNOFF
R ✓ Deanna Maria Metzger 3,413 45.3%
R ✓ Joe Ruzicka 2,064 27.4
Republican Primary

DISTRICT 109

CANDIDATE VOTES PCT.
RUNOFF
D ✓ Deshaundra Lockhart Jones 6,897 44.7%
D ✓ Carl Sherman 6,196 40.2
Democratic Primary

DISTRICT 121

CANDIDATE VOTES PCT.
RUNOFF
R ✓ Matt Beebe 4,351 29.5%
R ✓ Steve Allison 3,884 26.3
Republican Primary

DISTRICT 133

CANDIDATE VOTES PCT.
RUNOFF
D ✓ Sandra G. Moore 3,761 49.9%
D ✓ Marty Schexnayder 3,084 40.9
Democratic Primary

 

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