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22 Mar
0

Groups Attacking TRS Launch New Assault

This week, the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) released their “plan” for “real Texas budget solutions.” In this proposal, TPPF is calling for all future government workers to be pushed into 401(k) retirement plans. In addition to this recent attack on public employees (including public education professionals), Mr. Bill King posted an update about meeting with the North Montgomery County Retired Teachers Association (NMCRTA) in his blog. He calls the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) “significantly underfunded.” Finally, the Texarkana Gazette published an editorial calling for “real reform” of all public pension plans, including those in Texas.

We know now that many groups and politically motivated individuals think they know what is best for Texas public pension plans. Often, I find myself thinking they are simply manufacturing a crisis in order to institute change. I am not the only one that thinks this way. Mr. Forrest Wilder of the Texas Observer wrote about a similar opinion in his column this week. Not only are these groups offering “solutions” to problems that do not exist, they are not telling the entire story about how the TRS pension fund is a vital part of the state economy and provides retirement security for one out of every 20 Texans. This is especially true for individuals who do not receive Social Security. Many people simply do not know that most public school employees do not pay into the Social Security program. Many times, these groups and organizations make comparisons about TRS with other states’ pension systems (many of which are coordinated with Social Security, and all of which have different benefit formulas and vesting requirements).

TRTA is engaged with protecting your TRS benefits programs. We are encouraged that so many of you are following this debate and are actively participating in setting the record straight about our Texas TRS pension fund. For those of you coming to the TRTA 59th Annual Convention next week, we will be sharing new ways we can work together to protect your benefits.

After convention, TRTA will release this information in the news bulletin and through programs offered in our local units. These are challenging times, but TRTA is ready to meet the challenge!

Last Minute Convention Announcements

Thank you to everyone that is taking time to participate in this year’s TRTA 59th Annual Convention. The meeting will be held in Houston at the Westin Galleria March 25-27 and is completely sold out. All of the materials and presentations will be available on the TRTA web site after the convention for those unable to attend.

As you know, we are honored to have a number of state legislators participating in this year’s event. If you are attending the convention and are a constituent for any of the following legislators, please see Tim Lee or Cindee Sharp before the TRTA Legislative Luncheon on Tuesday (March 27) so that we may arrange for you to meet personally with these dedicated public servants. (Senator John Whitmire; Representative Alma Allen; Representative Larry Gonzales; and Representative Dan Huberty).

Finally, the TRTA Convention Keynote speaker, Ms. Joni Rodgers, is making her book Bald in the Land of Big Hair available for sale as part of her presentation. Ms. Rodgers and her publisher are giving all of the proceeds to the Texas Retired Teachers Foundation! This generous offer provides you with an encouraging story and a donation to our own charitable organization. The suggested donation for the book is $14 and checks should be made out to TRTF (donations are tax deductible). Ms. Rodgers will stay as long as necessary to sign books and share stories!

Final Comments

TRTA is working to protect and improve your TRS benefit programs. We are also working every day to educate people that are misinformed about your TRS pension trust fund. TRTA is a powerful voice, but we must be mindful of those groups that are working to eliminate the TRS benefit plan for future education retirees. Even though they say these changes will not impact current retirees, this is the biggest fallacy of them all.

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15 Mar
0

Keep Affordable Health Care, Defend the Defined Benefit Plan!

TRTA Convention Legislative Luncheon: Additional Speakers Announced

The study of the defined benefit plan and TRS-Care moves forward. As you know, the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) has been directed by the legislature to study the TRS benefits of current and future retirees. Some legislators and a number of politically motivated interest groups believe TRS retirees should not have a defined benefit plan. In addition, TRS projections show that the TRS-Care health insurance program will be financially distressed by the start of next session.

TRTA is working vigorously to protect and improve your TRS benefits. As part of the education process, TRTA has focused extensively on these issues in our news publication, The VOICE. Copies of these articles can be found online at www.trta.org.

Our focus now is to participate in the TRS study at every possible opportunity. Our objective is to educate all interest groups, legislators, the media and the general public about the benefit of maintaining the TRS defined benefit plan and TRS-Care. Meeting with our friends in the active educator community, partnering with active school employee groups, doing interviews with media outlets, and being engaged with our TRTA members are a few examples of our education campaign.

Never forget that the most important part of this education campaign is you! You can help by communicating with legislators and knowing the facts. We appreciate your work on behalf of TRTA and your dedication to these issues.

TRS Study Update

Maridell Fryar, TRTA First Vice-President, provided testimony to the TRS study panel on March 12. A copy of her comments is provided below. In addition to TRTA’s prepared remarks, the association gave a detailed written statement from Tim Lee, TRTA Executive Director. Most significantly, dozens of local TRTA members attended the TRS town hall meeting while many more watched the live webcast online.

This meeting was one of the early steps in the study process. Another TRS town hall meeting is set for April 4 in Haltom City. TRTA members are encouraged to attend if possible. TRTA state leaders will testify on the value and importance of TRS.

TRTA is working on numerous new resource materials to assist you in your grassroots outreach and educational efforts. Many of you already have the TRTA Fact Pages provided in the last two issues of The VOICE. Please use these fact pages, as well as Maridell Fryar’s testimony, when speaking with legislators or sending letters to your local newspapers.

TRTA Convention will be a BIG Event

The upcoming TRTA Annual Convention may be the largest in our association’s history. Thank you to everyone who will attend, and especially to the volunteers in District 4 for all of their hard work in preparing for our arrival.

Many of you (over 530!) have signed up to attend the TRTA Legislative Luncheon on March 27. That event is now sold out, but we are not excluding any convention participants from hearing and seeing our guest speakers. We will broadcast the event in a separate location.

We are pleased to announce the addition of three legislators for the luncheon. Senator John Whitmire, Representative Alma Allen, and Representative Larry Gonzales will join Representative Dan Huberty for a lively discussion led by Tim Lee. We know you will want to hear this great panel, and be involved in the many other programs, training sessions and business activities at the 59th Annual TRTA Convention.

 

We will continue to update you as the TRS studies move forward. Thank you for your membership in and support of the Texas Retired Teachers Association!

 

Maridell Fryar, TRTA First Vice President, Comments at TRS Town Hall Meeting March 12, 2012

Good afternoon. My name is Maridell Fryar, and I serve as First Vice-President of the Texas Retired Teachers Association. As the voice for public education retirees, TRTA is grateful to TRS for performing the studies on the pension fund and TRS-Care because it is important for the facts to be clear.

We hope that the study about the pension fund will address several pertinent issues:

  • The study should address the importance of a secure retirement income. TRS provides security to over 300,000 retirees. Without the TRS defined benefit pension, retired public school employees would have no other source of reliable income. This income is an economic stabilizer that prevents retirees from using social programs such as welfare and food stamps.
  • The study should also consider that 95% of school employees in Texas do not pay into Social Security. TRS, however, is a better plan that provides a larger benefit to annuitants at less cost to taxpayers and individuals than Social Security.
  • The study should address the great value TRS provides for the state. The current TRS defined benefit plan has been around for 75 years and during this time, only 20% of the funding has come from taxpayers. Another 20% comes from active employees, and the plan earns 60% on average on investments. TRS retirees are putting money back into the Texas economy, generating $970 million in state and local revenues. This is a great bargain for Texas taxpayers.
  • It is important that the study address the cost efficiency of DB plans versus defined contribution plans. A study by the National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS) found that a DB plan provides the same retirement income at nearly half (46%) the cost of an individual 401(k)-type DC account. TRS is able to keep costs low for its members because it is pre-funded, professionally managed, and has the benefit of the economy of scale and pooled financial risks.

Although the TRS pension fund provides a secure retirement, much of retirees’ income is spent on rising healthcare costs. TRTA hopes that the study on TRS-Care will address adequate funding for the TRS-Care health insurance program.

  • TRS-Care covers over 230,000 participants. The study should consider that these participants already make major contributions to their care, including premiums, deductibles, co-pays and prescription costs. Their premiums alone fund 31% of the program; and combined with other costs, retirees pay for nearly 50% of the program.
  • The study should also identify the differences of health care costs for public education retirees and other retirees in TRS such as higher education retirees.
  • We hope that the study will identify a funding mechanism for the program that is more aligned with rising healthcare costs instead of payroll. While payroll remains flat, health care costs keep rising. The current mechanism is mismatched.
  • Finally, we hope the study takes into consideration the fact that TRS retirees have not received an annuity increase in nearly 12 years. The money available to retirees to cover rising health costs is diminishing.

We at TRTA understand the challenges you face as you undertake these studies. We appreciate your diligence and implore you to keep the best interests of public education retirees in mind as you proceed, such as a secure retirement income and access to affordable health care.

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09 Mar
0

TRS Town Hall Meeting Set for Monday

Something Different…Good News from Nation’s Capitol

The Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) will host a town hall meeting on Monday, March 12, 2012 at 1:00 p.m. The official notice of this meeting is below.

“You are invited to attend a Town Hall meeting/webcast scheduled for March 12, 2012 from 1-3 p.m. at TRS Headquarters, 1000 Red River Street, Austin, TX 78701. The meeting will be on the 4th Floor in the TRS Cafeteria.

At the meeting you can submit questions about both studies. If you cannot attend in person, questions will be taken through the webcast which will be shown live on the TRS web site. A link will be available on the TRS web site at www.trs.state.tx.us.

The two studies will focus on actuarial and fiscal impacts from potential changes to the TRS pension plan and a comprehensive review of potential plan design and other changes that would improve the long-term sustainability of TRS-Care.”

TRTA will testify at this meeting. If you are in the Austin area, we strongly encourage member attendance and participation. It is important that we send a strong message to legislators that we are active and involved in the discussions about TRS benefit programs.

If you are unable to attend the meeting, be sure to log on to the TRS web site and watch the live webcast. The webcast will allow you to submit questions to the TRS panel in real-time, making it a great opportunity to see, hear, and interact with the TRS study group. TRTA appreciates the TRS Board and staff for making this a transparent and interactive process.

The Texas Legislature is requiring this actuarial and fiscal impact study of potential changes to the TRS defined benefit plan and TRS-Care health insurance program. TRTA members know that there are numerous organizations, special interests, and powerful individuals that want to see the TRS defined benefit plan modified for active and/or future employees. TRTA’s core value is the preservation of the TRS defined benefit plan. We also oppose any changes to the TRS-Care health insurance program that weakens the benefit structure or shifts more health care costs onto retirees.

Remember, this special town hall meeting is set for Monday, March 12, at 1:00 p.m. If you plan to attend, please arrive at the TRS building no later than 12:45 p.m. Those watching the webcast via the TRS web site (www.trs.state.tx.us) should be able to log on to the presentation at 1:00 p.m. TRTA will send another reminder on Monday morning.

Good News from Washington

The National Institute of Retirement Security (NIRS) released a new study this week about the impact pensioners have on the nation’s economy. The economic impact study finds that pension benefit expenditures provide critical economic stimulus, including more than $1 trillion in total economic output for the United States!

The study calculates that pension expenditures supported 6.5 million American jobs, which paid nearly $315 billion in income to Americans in 2009. More than $1 trillion in total economic output and $553 billion in value added to the U.S. was attributable to pension benefits. These expenditures also supported $134 billion in tax revenue at the local, state, and federal levels.

In 2009, the national unemployment rate was 9.3%. The study finds that the 6.5 million American jobs supported by pension expenditures are significant, as they represent 4.2 percentage points in the national labor force.

In 2009, 478,767 Texas residents received a total of $10.2 billion in pension benefits from state and local pension plans. Retirees’ expenditures from these benefits supported a total of $20.2 billion in total economic output in the state, and $11.2 billion in value added in the state.

The study shows that $7.5 billion in direct economic impacts were supported by retirees’ initial expenditures. An additional $7.0 billion in indirect impact resulted when these businesses purchased additional goods and services. $5.7 billion in induced impacts occurred when employees hired by businesses as a result of the direct and indirect impacts made expenditures.

The bottom line is that Texas pensioners, including retirees in TRS, are a vital part of our national, state, and local economies. With these systems under attack for all the wrong reasons, Texas taxpayers need to know that there is tremendous value in supporting our state public pension plans.

TRTA is a supporting member of the National Institute on Retirement Security. Their work is supporting our efforts to protect and improve TRS.

TRTA Membership News

TRTA wants to thank everyone who renewed their membership or joined TRTA as a first-time member in the 2011-2012 year. TRTA’s message that we are the voice for all Texas public education retirees is motivating more members to join in our efforts to protect your pension and health care benefits. The total TRTA membership this year is a record-breaking 72,036!

We know that times have been tough and that for many, belt-tightening is a way of life. Even still, so many of you believe in our legislative and membership efforts and graciously support TRTA by renewing your dues. Now, we are faced with even more extreme challenges and threats to our pension fund and health care benefits. These are the times that membership matters most. We must demonstrate to those who want to see us defeated that we are vigilant, unified, and strong. Your support and membership in TRTA sends a loud, clear, and unfiltered message to any and all who oppose the preservation of the TRS defined benefit plan and who seek to diminish the benefits you have earned.

From all of us at TRTA, thank you!

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