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23 Jan
0

TRTA Action Alert: Senate Finance Hearing on TRS set for Thursday

Senate Budget Hearing on TRS set for Thursday

TRTA Members Called to Action (TRTA Action Email Provided Below)

The Texas Senate Finance Committee will hear public testimony on budget requests for the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) tomorrow (Thursday, January 24, 2013). The meeting is one of the first steps in the legislative process, and provides the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) with an opportunity to promote our members’ interests.

TRTA will use this opportunity to express our appreciation to the Texas Senate for increasing its budget commitment to TRS for the coming biennium. The Senate version of the budget is already a major improvement from the previous legislative budget, which cut TRS pension fund and health care contributions. TRTA members made a strong case during the interim to have a baseline budget that was higher than last session’s, and the Legislature responded proactively with the current budget proposal.

While this is a significant improvement over last biennium, TRTA will also impress upon the Senate Finance Committee the need to do more. TRTA will ask the Senate Finance Committee to:

  • Increase TRS funding to ensure the long-term solvency of the pension trust fund;
  • Take immediate funding action to help make the TRS pension fund actuarially sound as quickly as possible;
  • Increase TRS pension fund contributions to 6.9 percent of the aggregate teacher payroll in FY 2014 and 7.4 percent in FY 2015;
  • Consider some type of benefit increase for retirees who are in the most desperate need;
  • Develop a plan to ensure the pension trust fund is actuarially sound and is able to provide a true cost-of-living increase for TRS retirees as soon as possible;
  • Take immediate funding action to ensure the long-term sustainability of the TRS-Care health insurance fund;
  • Ensure that existing TRS-Care participants do not have premium increases or drastic changes in their health care benefits; and,
  • Take any funding action necessary to relieve the financial pressure that the TRS-Care program is now facing.

The legislative session is just now getting underway, but TRTA has made numerous legislative visits already. We are hearing a lot of support for the TRS pension fund, its benefit structure, the value it represents for its members and all Texans, and a true desire to help TRS retirees.

TRTA members can help push our agenda forward in the Senate by sending an email to their Senators asking them to support the TRTA legislative agenda. Your Senator does not have to be on the Senate Finance Committee to hear our message!

Click Here to send an email to your Senator asking for their support on the TRTA legislative agenda.

Many of you have sent emails in the past. The TRTA email system generates an automatic message featuring our key points on the topic. Our system also allows members to include any additional comments or suggestions. The TRTA email system delivers emails directly to your Senator or Representative, even if you do not know who that is!

This is the first mass email message our TRTA members will have an opportunity to send this session. Let’s make a strong first impression and send a loud and clear message to the Texas Senate that we appreciate what they have done so far, but retirees are asking them to do more.

TRTA is recognized by the Legislature for having one of the most active, organized, and professional legislative programs in the state. We know you are ready to carry on that tradition. Now is the start of a very active and productive legislative session!

TRTA will provide a complete update on tomorrow’s hearing after it adjourns.

Thank you for your involvement and support. TRTA members are the best advocates in Texas. If you are not a member and want more information on how to join, please contact us at 1.800.880.1650.

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11 Jan
0

The Texas 83rd Legislative Session Is Underway

On Tuesday, the Texas Legislature convened for the 83rd Legislative Session. As the session begins, I cannot help but think of the now famous political question “are you better off today than you were four years ago?”  Many TRS annuitants may be quick to respond that public education retirees have not had a pension increase in 12 years. It has been 5 years since the supplemental payment was provided to retirees in 2008 (passed in the 2007 Legislative Session). So, the obvious and painful answer for many TRS retirees is that we are not better off today than we were four years ago.

At the same time, think back to the start of session just four years ago. The national economy had taken a major blow, we were moving into a deep recession, jobs were being cut across the country and the markets had plunged. The TRS pension trust fund had decreased in value from $113 billion in August of 2008 to $67 billion by February 2009 (that was a $50 billion drop in just 5 and a half months!).

Indeed, both the 2009 and 2011 legislative sessions were very difficult as the state budget and the political will to make improvements for pensioners seemed low.

TRTA members rallied in those sessions to reassure legislators that the pension fund, and pension fund policy, is a long-term venture and one that does not warrant kneejerk reactions to daily trends. TRS is in the forever business, and TRTA members worked hard during those sessions to protect the pension trust fund and our TRS-Care health insurance program.

While TRS retirees did not receive an increase in their pensions, TRTA did prevent drastic increases in TRS-Care health insurance premiums and worked with the Legislature to ensure the pension fund was managed appropriately (the Legislature did not dictate how the pension fund managed its assets, but allowed the pension trustees to make those decisions without undue political involvement).

Perhaps most compelling in the aftermath of the trust fund suffering such major losses, not a single retiree was told their annuity check would be skipped or would even be delayed. In addition, no active teacher was told they could not retire during those difficult economic times. If you ever needed even more evidence why our TRS defined benefit plan is worth protecting, those are a few very poignant facts!

The start of the 83rd Legislative session is a much different time. State revenues are up, the state’s reserve fund (often referred to as the Rainy Day Fund) has increased, and many programs that were cut last session may see those cuts restored.

TRS must be one of the state’s vital budget interests this session! TRTA has been working with elected officials and budget writers since the end of the last regular legislative session demanding that the cuts made to the TRS pension trust fund and TRS-Care health insurance program be restored this session.

TRTA also is calling on the Legislature to increase their contributions to both programs. Our retirees have been asked session after session to work with the Legislature to help make the pension fund actuarially sound so that retirees can receive a real cost-of-living adjustment. TRTA has supported numerous efforts to improve funding, cut waste, and end retirement practices that were not deemed sound.

TRTA supported pension reforms back in 2005 long before other states even perceived that such action was vital to their own pension funds’ long-term health. We have worked closely with the Legislature to make incremental improvements.

Last session, though, the Legislature cut TRS funding to either constitutional or statutory minimums (in the case of TRS-Care, they cut the program to less than the statutory levels deemed necessary).

The Legislature cannot keep doing the minimum, then wait and see if the markets will make up for years of inadequate funding. TRS retirees and their loss of buying power cannot and should not be ignored by the Legislature. Putting retirees’ health care program at risk is not how our public education retirees should be treated after dedicating their lives to educating our children.

TRTA wants to champion any legislative effort to improve the overall health and fiscal soundness of the TRS pension trust fund, while protecting the current TRS defined benefit plan for all future public education retirees. We also call on the Legislature to make the necessary contributions to the TRS-Care fund and TRS pension fund. Retirees cannot afford health care premium increases. If our retirees are ever to receive a true cost-of-living increase, the state must increase its funding to the pension fund.

Achieving these goals will not be easy, but it starts with the Legislature recognizing that the state cannot keep doing the minimum and hoping for maximum results. Getting by with state minimum contributions is not the way to improve the pension trust fund or TRS-Care health insurance program. Our pension trust fund and the TRS-Care program are far more valuable to this state if they are well-funded and growing.

TRTA has a robust legislative agenda. Much of our early legislative work will focus on the budget. Perhaps the most critical goal for TRTA during this session is protecting the TRS-Care health insurance program. TRTA has been successful in keeping retiree premiums from increasing for 8 years. This is a tremendous accomplishment for all TRTA members that have worked on this legislative initiative.

As all TRS-Care participants know, the health care program is experiencing a number of changes to contain program costs. Many of these changes maintain, and have even improved, benefit levels for some TRS-Care participants; but the fact remains that these are cost containment measures being employed by TRS because the TRS-Care program is running out of money.

The Texas Legislature must address the TRS-Care funding situation. The program participants are paying the highest share of the cost of TRS-Care through premiums, co-pays, deductibles, and out-of-pocket expenses. The state likely will not find a better managed, more efficient, quality coverage program than TRS-Care. Funding to TRS-Care must be restored. Any supplemental appropriations that are needed to prevent drastic increases in retiree premiums or reduced coverage must be a part of this Legislature’s budget.

We have many challenges ahead of us in the next 140 days, including educating nearly 50 new legislative members.  We can use your help to accomplish this very important task as well as to help us maintain relationships with key legislators that influence decisions about TRS and the TRS healthcare program.

We are asking all of our members to commit to one or more activities this session.  It is never too soon to begin communicating TRTA’s goals to your Senators and Representatives!

Will you…

  • Contact your legislator with a phone call?

You can use a toll-free number to find out who your legislators are and to receive their contact information.  Call 1.888.674.3788!

Contact information for legislators can also be found on the Texas Tribune website at the following link: www.texastribune.org/directory.

  • Mail a TRTA Fact Sheet to your legislator?

You can download Fact Sheets from the TRTA website at www.trta.org (hover over the Legislation tab, then Select TRTA Legislative Initiative)

You can also detach the Fact Sheet found in the 4th quarter issue of The VOICEand mail it to your legislator!

  • Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper?

Writing a letter to the editor of your local newspaper is a great way to inform the general public about the truth of TRS and its retirees.  Many people do not know, for example, that 95% of public school employees in Texas do not pay into Social Security.  Help us spread the message that TRS is not in crisis, our retirees have earned their financial security, and protecting TRS now protects current public educators too!

  • Respond to TRTA email action alerts and email your legislators during session?

As the session gets underway, we will be using this Inside Line e-newsletter feature to provide you with sample letters that you can email to your legislators with a few clicks of your mouse! Please check your email regularly for legislative alerts.  We may need you to contact your legislator to bring an important bill about TRS to the attention of the Pensions, Investments and Financial Services Committee or to tell your legislator how to vote on a bill.

Every session, TRTA is recognized as one of the most active, involved, educated, articulate, passionate, and organized groups working with the Texas Legislature. We are a large and strong voice for public education retirees. Thank you for your hard work. Thank you for the hours you put in helping your fellow TRS retirees. Thank you for your recruitment efforts that have grown TRTA into the organization that it is.

Now is the time to pursue these issues and address any others that may develop over the next 140 days. There are MANY competing interests working for their own good cause this session. I know, though, that no other group can be as effective as our public education retirees!

TRTA always has been the most successful when our members worked as active participants in our legislative initiatives. We are ready for the coming challenges and we know that you are too. Please feel free to address your questions and concerns about the session by emailing me directly at tim@trta.org or to our wonderful TRTA staff at info@trta.org.

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01 Jan
0

TRTA Wishes You a Happy New Year

Hello and Happy New Year to all the TRTA Inside Line subscribers. TRTA has had a great year mobilizing our membership and working with all our partner associations to prepare for a difficult legislative session. I will speak on that issue more in just a minute.

Let me begin this message by saying “thank you.” Your willingness to receive these emails is greatly appreciated. We have thousands of Inside Line subscribers from varied backgrounds and walks of life. Many of the Inside Line subscribers are, of course TRS retirees and members of the Texas Retired Teachers Association. We also have many subscribers who are active school employees, legislators, legislative staff, state agency officials, members of the media, and those who are generally interested in pension news and information.

Whichever category you find yourself, please know how grateful we are to have you as an Inside Line email subscriber.

Many TRTA members have received, or are receiving, their latest issue of the association news bulletin, The Voice. This current issue provides the most recent information on how TRTA has prepared and is now ready to engage in the upcoming legislative session. It also has key talking points to share with your legislators as they return to Austin, as well as a fact page you can detach from the bulletin and then mail to your legislator. We hope that you find this information useful and are able to send the fact page with a short note to your legislator explaining your needs and expectations for the coming legislative session.

TRTA has worked diligently over the last 8-months raising the alarm to all TRS members, retired and active, about those who want to drastically change your TRS pension trust fund. We know there is a movement working hard in Texas to eliminate defined benefit plans for public education employees. Many times, the people behind these proposed changes say that existing TRS retirees will not be impacted in any way. We have exposed this untruth for what it is and are ready to oppose any proposal that drastically changes or eliminates the TRS defined benefit plan.

Simply as a point of encouragement to our current TRTA retiree members and as an expression of gratitude to those who provided us the opportunity, I wanted to let you know that a large majority of the meetings that TRTA leaders participated in over the past 8-months have been with active school employees! TRTA is grateful to help educate our working school employees on the war that is being waged against their pension benefits. It will take all of us working together to remain informed, to be active, and to protect and improve this vital piece of our retirement security.

While there has been much said about the war against the TRS retirement benefit program, TRTA has also been working equally hard on protecting the TRS-Care health insurance program. This is the health insurance program that many TRS retirees are participants and has served our state TRS retirees well for over 25-years.

The program is simply running out of money and TRTA is prepared to work this entire session on restoring cuts made to the program last legislative session, and find any additional revenue that may be needed to keep the program strong and protect retiree premiums.

As many of you know, TRS plan administrators have already adopted changes to the plan that include an introduction of a new Medicare Advantage plan, as well as a new Medicare D prescription drug benefit. While TRS officials have worked very hard to ensure as little disruption in the level of care and service our retirees now enjoy, these changes have been introduced as cost savings measures and member participation in these new options is said to be vital to the continuation and financial security of TRS-Care.

Legislators need to know that TRS retirees in the TRS-Care plan are not getting a “free ride” and pay significant premiums, co-pays, out-of-pocket expenses, meet various deductibles, and many times pay Medicare costs on top of the TRS-Care expenses. This plan must be adequately funded and now is the time to see serious legislative action to protect the vital health care plan now and in the future.

TRTA members who have been retired for a number of years know that there has not been a permanent pension increase since 2001. TRTA championed and helped pass a supplemental payment for TRS retirees in 2007 (paid in 2008). But that benefit came five years ago. The Texas Legislature MUST consider providing some form of benefit increase for TRS retirees. Some in the legislature may be unwilling to pass legislation providing a benefit increase to retirees so long as the fund is not actuarially sound. If this is the case, TRTA calls on the legislature to do what it must to help make the fund actuarially sound and provide retirees a much needed pension increase.

These are the major issues we will all be working on in the coming session. While we will be putting every effort into these state legislative issues, please know that we have not forgotten our national legislative efforts to protect your retirement security. We know that many of you are impacted by the Social Security provisions know as the Government Pension Offset and the Windfall Elimination Provision. TRTA has a strong presence working on these issues on the national level, as well. TRTA is also defending the TRS fund from issues such as mandatory Social Security. Our national legislative efforts also include working with partner organizations to protect Medicare funding and more.

TRTA had a very productive 2012. It is impossible to say too much about how great our TRTA local unit leaders and district representatives partnered together to make this a very successful year for TRTA. Without our local unit network, TRTA would not be nearly as influential as it is today. If you are not yet a member of one of our active and growing local units, please consider joining one today.

Again, thank you for being a member of TRTA and a subscriber to this email news update service. We have a busy 2013 planned with a challenging legislative session ahead of us. TRTA has always been the most successful when our members had good information and worked as active participants in our legislative initiatives. We are ready for the coming challenges and we know that you are too.

Thanks, and Happy New Year!

Tim Lee

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