24 Apr

Bills to Improve TRS get Improved; Promote Soundness and a Raise for Retirees

Bills to Improve TRS Get Improved Themselves: Changes Made, Changes Still in the Works

Two bills (SB 1458 and HB 1884) aimed at improving the actuarial condition of the TRS pension fund were revised yesterday and voted out of both their Senate and House committees.

TRTA members have done an amazing job of letting legislators know that we want to improve these bills and make the TRS fund actuarially sound. We set a goal of sending 10,000 emails on this issue before Monday. We shattered that goal!TRTA members have sent over 14,000 emails on this vital issue!

TRTA members are sending a strong message that these bills MUST be improved, and we MUST do all we can to shore up the pension fund and get retirees a benefit increase.

Yesterday, both bill sponsors offered significant improvement to SB 1458 and HB 1884 – especially for active educators. Senator Robert Duncan and Representative Bill Callegari modified a much debated section of the bills. The “age-adjusted” discount for TRS members retiring before age 62 was altered.

The original version of the bill reduced a retiree’s TRS annuity by 5% for every year of age less than 62 at retirement. The new version of this provision changes the reduction to 2% for every year of age less than 62 at retirement.

The original grandfather provision remains in place. If you satisfy any one of the three items below as of September 1, 2014, you are NOT affected by the changes in the proposed legislation.

·       Age 50; or
·       Meet the Rule of 70 (age plus years of service equals 70); or
·       You have 25 years of service.

Over 50% of all TRS employees currently meet the grandfather provision.

Chairman Duncan and Chairman Callegari modified the age-adjusted annuity deduction for all “vested” TRS employees. The original proposal of the bill provided for a much higher penalty for all TRS active employees who will not be grandfathered. Now, the 2% age-adjustment reduction is expanded to cover vastly more people that would have been reduced by the 5% adjustment. This is a much better provision of both these bills.

This change actually may improve the retirement conditions for TRS employees hired in 2007 and after. These employees currently have a 5% reduction if they retiree prior to age 60.

Depending upon their age at retirement, the proposed 2% age-adjusted reduction with a minimum age 62 may have less impact than the current 5% age-adjusted reduction at age 60 for this group of employees.

We know that our friends in the active educator community are concerned about the age-adjusted annuity component of this legislation. TRTA would prefer there not be a reduction either. It is our goal to continue to meet with stakeholders and legislators to improve this part of the bill. The fact remains, though, that the TRS fund needs some adjustments to ensure its long-term solvency. Without large increases in contributions, these kinds of adjustments are the types of changes that need to be reviewed from time to time to maintain the fund’s stability.

While it is not perfect, the change authored by Senator Duncan and Representative Callegari is a big step in the right direction. According to actuarial experts, changes like these are necessary to help preserve our pension fund.

Failure to act this session will result in a prolonged decline in the fund and makes it susceptible to attack by those who want to convert our defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan.

As has been reported, the Rule of 80 does not change. A person can still retire at any time when they meet the Rule of 80. The age-adjusted part of this legislation is a plan modification not dissimilar to other retirement plans that take into account a person’s age at retirement.

We know this is small consolation for a new rule that may be applied to the retirement fund. So, the question is, why is this being considered at all? Here are a few of the reasons:

  • The TRS fund has a large unfunded liability. While the system is fiscally healthy, its unfunded liability continues to grow. Eventually the plan will run out of money if we do not make some modifications.
  • The pension fund does not have a “funding period.” Under current circumstances, the contributions to the plan and its investment earnings will not keep the plan funded in the (distant) future.
  • The Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) is requiring all public pension plans to report their funding condition using new plan assumption methodologies as of January 2014. If TRS Texas can make some modifications to the plan, these new reporting methodologies will have little to no impact on our plan. This also will make the fund less subject to attacks from defined contribution (or, 401-k style plan) proponents.
  • TRS will be actuarially sound under these proposals.
  • The State is increasing its contribution to the TRS fund with these modifications.
  • The average age of a retiree in 2012 was 61. While this rule may seem punitive, TRS employees already are choosing to retire at an age similar to the proposed age than many may realize.
  • The TRS-Care program is running out of money and is projected to have a $1 billion shortfall in two years. These changes produce actuarial savings for the TRS-Care program over time and will help sustain this VITAL retirement benefit for future generations of TRS retirees.

TRTA members know that without the pension fund being actuarially sound, there can be no increases for current retirees. The last increase for TRS retirees was in 2001.

The current proposal provides for a cost-of-living increase for TRS retirees who retired in 1994 or before. Both Senator Duncan and Representative Callegari have made it their goal to expand the COLA section of the bill so that more retirees may benefit. We believe more TRS retirees will be able to receive a real, permanent, increase in their annuities if this plan is adopted. 

TRTA is engaged in a very positive way with all our friends in the active community. These organizations have been very generous in their efforts to work with us. Not one of these organizations has ever suggested that TRS retirees are receiving a raise “on the backs of active employees.”

We are all working to get retirees something sooner than later. While other proposals are still being considered, the possibility of retirees receiving a cost of living raise without some TRS plan modifications is, presently, remote. SB 1458 and HB 1884 are still being worked on, but these bills do provide immediate actuarial soundness and many retirees will receive a raise if they are implemented. Especially those who retired a number of years ago and are in desperate need of some financial relief.

Many people in the legislative process recognize that retirees are the ones that have been shouldering the burden of having a pension system that is not actuarially sound by not seeing any increase in their annuity for 12 long years.

We are all working on a bill that was not designed by us, but holds the promise of putting TRS on a path to long-term actuarial soundness. As Senator Duncan and Representative Callegari said yesterday, these bills are being offered as a way to ensure that the TRS defined benefit plan survives and thrives for many, many years to come. 

These changes will help us weather the anti-defined benefit plan attacks being waged all over the country (and here in Texas), make it a priority to keep TRS well-funded, and end the era of prolonged droughts when TRS retirees receive no cost-of-living increases.

SB 1458 and HB 1884 are receiving considerable discussion and we are all working together. Last evening, Senator Duncan and Representative Callegari met with all stakeholders for several hours. We all had the opportunity to discuss these changes, their impact, the long-term goals, and more. While no breakthrough decisions were made, the most important facts TRTA took away from this meeting are that our elected officials want to maintain this vital retirement plan for our school employees.

This situation is far from over. TRTA remains an active participant in these discussions.

TRTA is the Voice for ALL Texas TRS retirees! We can make this fund actuarially sound this session! We can expect the state to increase its contributions to the TRS fund! We can help many of our TRS retirees receive a much needed pension increase! We can and will protect the TRS defined benefit plan for ALL TRS retirees…today, tomorrow and in the future!

For now, please continue to email your legislators and ask them to support this process and give consideration to SB 1458 and HB 1884. These bills are making progress. The more we work to support this progress, the better TRS will be for all retired and active public school employees.

We will keep you posted on these important developments and continue to provide action alerts that you may use to contact your legislators. Together, we can do this!

Again, thank you for your strong advocacy and support on these bills and all the issues TRTA is pursuing this session. Your membership in TRTA is vital. Thank you so much!!

Please contact our office at 1.800.880.1650 if you want information about joining TRTA.
Click Here to Email your Legislators asking for their Help on SB 1458 and HB 1884!

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19 Apr

Let’s Make These Bills Better

Dear TRTA Members,

Thank you for your commitment to improving retirement benefits for TRS retirees. This session has been far more positive on our issues than two years ago. This is due to your steadfast dedication to our work in the legislative process!

We are at a critical moment in the legislative process.

Our actions now may mean the difference between actuarial soundness and financial relief for TRS retirees, or not making the progress we need to protect the future of TRS.

Many of you responded to our recent email about the ongoing discussions to make the pension fund actuarially sound and provide an increase for some TRS retirees. Thank you for providing us with your feedback.

After long and productive days at the Capitol, changes in HB 1884 (Callegari) and SB 1458 (Duncan) are being discussed thoroughly by our friends in the Texas Legislature.

A comment that we hear in nearly every office we visit is “we want to help our retired TRS members, and we want to help them now.

These legislators know the needs are many and the time has come to focus on the pension fund’s actuarial soundness and relief for TRS retirees.

TRTA also has made it a priority to partner with our friends in active educator organizations and seek their counsel as we discuss potential changes to TRS.

The good news is that we are all working tirelessly to achieve similar goals: make the fund actuarially sound, avoid the impact of the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) changes in 2014, minimize the negative impact on our active school employees, and provide some financial relief to TRS retirees.

TRTA has met directly with both Senator Robert Duncan and Representative Bill Callegari, the lead authors of the bills, to discuss changes that we believe make them more agreeable than they are in their present form.

We are stressing that more TRS retirees need to be included in a benefit increase. Many of our friends in the Legislature want to achieve that goal as well.

TRTA knows that both Senator Duncan and Representative Callegari are true supporters of the TRS defined benefit plan and that their goals are to strengthen the fund’s actuarial condition and make it strong for all TRS retirees—both now and in the future. Many of you want this too.

Now is the time for action. Now is the time to be bold, and build these ideas into long-term, workable solutions!

We are asking you to help us. The bills as they are written do not offer enough help to retirees and have a large potential downside for active school employees. The legislative process is a progression, with bills improved by stakeholder input.

Those discussions ARE taking place and TRTA is heavily involved. Our goal is to be the voice for all TRS retirees, and the message is being sent loud and clear by your Austin legislative team.

While these bills are not perfect, they are what we have to work with and they absolutely can and should be improved! If they do not move, then we will miss this opportunity to make good things happen for all TRS retirees.

Within just a few short hours, over 4,500 emails were sent by TRTA members supporting these ongoing discussions. Thank you.

We need you to keep applying pressure. Keep emailing! If you already have sent an email, click here to send another one!

In addition, we are asking you to call your legislator and thank them for standing strong with TRS retirees and with TRTA.

There has been tremendous support for maintaining the TRS defined benefit plan. These bills, if adjusted appropriately, will make our pension fund actuarially sound and give our retirees much needed financial relief.

We hear your voice. We want the same thing you do: a guarantee to help retirees and more of them! This is possible this session. Our legislators need to HEAR from all of us!

It is imperative that your legislator receives a call from you as soon as possible. They need to hear you say:

“Thank you for not giving up on TRS retirees. SB 1458 and HB 1884 need improvement, but we know they are leading us in the right direction. It will take all of us working together to get them passed. TRTA supports this endeavor. Retirees need help now.”

Use our hotline to contact your Senator and Representative: 1.888.674.3788.

These bills need a chance. Please understand that some people want these bills to die simply because they want to change the TRS defined benefit structure to a defined contribution structure.

Let’s not let people steal this retirement system from us. Now is the time for action!

We cannot stress enough the need for your help. This is a call to action for all TRTA members who want to get the system actuarially sound, improve these bills for both retired and active TRS members, and achieve some financial relief for TRS retirees. Please help us! Make your call today.

TRTA Legislator Hotline: 1.888.674.3788.

Click here to send an email to your legislators!

Click here to learn who your legislators are!

Thank you for your ongoing support. We are making a difference. The passage of bills designed to help the TRS fund and help ALL TRS retirees is TRTA’s number one priority. Please contact your network of TRTA members and let them know about this action alert. We have already achieved some great accomplishments–like getting more than 100 co-authors on HB 1383!–and now is the time for TRTA to generate a grassroots action campaign that we know no one else in the state can match.

We are working with our friends in the legislature, we are working very closely with our friends in the active school employee/employer community. We can do this! A benefit increase for retirees is definitely possible this session. TRTA can lead the way in this endeavor.

Please remember to be positive and express appreciation to the legislators or their staff (this time of session, it is always nice to hear a pleasant voice on the phone!). Let your legislator know how important it is to make this TRS fund actuarially sound. Let them know how important a benefit increase would be to you! Let them know we are in this fight together and that we can accomplish great things. Tell them we can improve SB 1458 and HB 1884 to protect TRS now and in the future.

Thank you TRTA members. You are all doing an amazing job and I believe it is making a BIG difference!

Sincerely yours,

Tim Lee

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19 Apr

TRTA Issues Front-and-Center Next Week

Pension Increase Bills in Committee; Action on TRS Pension Bills

Special Update on TRS Legislation–New! Updated Email Campaign, click here to send New Email!!

TRTA members have answered the call! Over 5,000 emails have been sent since yesterday. We do not know how many TRTA members have made phone calls, but we know that every office we visited today talked about the “nice and passionate” TRTA members calling in to support efforts on SB 1458 and HB 1884.

Your actions are so appreciated! We are a long way from the finish line, though, and we must keep up this pressure.

Every TRTA member that wants to help us make the pension fund actuarially sound this session needs to contact their legislators. Any TRTA member that would like to help their fellow retirees and themselves get a much needed pension benefit increase must also help send emails and make phone calls.

Some TRTA members have commented that this much effort should NOT be necessary to help our retirees. We agree! There are, however, many interests trying to minimize our agenda.

We want to cut through the noise that is constantly attacking TRS retirees and the TRS defined benefit plan. As we reported yesterday, some groups would rather do nothing simply to advance their agenda of worsening the TRS fund and pushing the idea of defined contribution plans.

Enough is enough! TRS retirees need help and we need it now. Please, if this issue is important to you or someone you know who is a TRS retiree, we need you to email and call your legislators.

TRTA is taking a lead role to work with legislators and active educator stakeholders. Together, we can make SB 1458 and HB 1884 the bills that improve TRS for generations to come.

These bills are expected to be heard in committee on Monday. We believe that TRTA members can generate over 10,000 emails by that meeting. We have posted a newly updated email campaign in this email.

Please click here to send your legislators an email about this vital issue.

In addition, please call your legislators on Monday and ask them to work with Senator Robert Duncan and Representative Bill Callegari to improve these bills. Retirees and active school employees are working together to protect TRS. We can make a difference if we work together.

TRTA Call Your Legislator Hotline: 1.888.674.3788

TRTA Email Campaign: Click Here!

Find out who represents you: Click Here!

Additional Legislative Action Set for Monday

A number of other bills will be heard in the House Pensions Committee on Monday afternoon. One of those bills, HB 103 by Representative Larry Gonzales, would authorize TRS retirees to receive a supplemental payment this year.

Representative Gonzales authored similar legislation last session and it passed out of the House with overwhelming support. Representative Gonzales championed this idea as a way to help the thousands of TRS retirees that have not received a benefit increase since the last supplemental payment in 2008.

No TRS retiree has seen a permanent cost of living raise since 2001, but the supplemental payment that was received in 2008 was equivalent to three-years worth of increases paid in one lump-sum (based on a one-time cost of living raise equal to 3 percent).

While this bill did not pass in the Senate last session, Representative Gonzales promised to reintroduce the bill and keep fighting for TRS retirees.

TRTA awarded Representative Larry Gonzales and Senator Robert Deuell (who carried a companion bill in the Senate) their “Legislation of the Year” award in 2011. These bills represent a creative way to help retirees while also protecting the overall value of the TRS fund by authorizing the supplemental payment only if the fund’s value exceeds 80 percent and if the system earned its expected investment return of 8 percent.

TRTA does support HB 103 and Representative Gonzales for his work on this issue. We are very grateful for Representative Gonzales and his steadfast support of doing all he can to help TRS retirees.

TRTA will also support the bills authored by our good friends Representative Alma Allen, Representative Armando “Mando” Martinez, and Representative Ana Hernandez Luna. These bills all address retirees receiving a pension increase.

Concluding Comments

Thank you for your hard work and dedication. We are making a difference for TRS retirees this session. We still have time to improve and pass these important bills.

Your TRTA membership is what allows us to advocate on your behalf. If you are not a member but want more information about joining in our efforts, please call us at 1.800.880.1650. The TRTA membership fee is $25 per year.

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