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05 Apr 2013
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TRTA Issues Take Center Stage

Retiree Budget Issues Raise Awareness

Click Here to Send our Thank You Message to Your House member! Remember, thank you messages are as important, if not more so, than our Action Messages. Good things are happening, but other groups are attacking our progress. Let’s send a stronger message than any other group in Texas!!

Thank you TRTA members for your emails to House members yesterday supporting our budget initiatives. Please click here to send an email to your House member thanking them for their adoption of our amendments and passage of a budget more supportive of TRS benefits.

Now that the Texas House has adopted its version of the state budget, the next step is to take the bill to conference committee where Senate and House designees discuss and agree to final budget changes.

Yesterday’s TRTA email campaign encouraged House members to adopt two TRTA-developed amendments. They support the work being done by legislators to increase funding for our TRS pension trust fund and TRS-Care program!

Thanks to an outpouring of TRTA support, our primary issues continue to advance in the legislative process! Please take the time to thank your House member.

Last night’s debate was very supportive of TRS retirees. As you know, some members tried to redirect dollars from other parts of the budget to the TRS pension fund or TRS-Care program. As TRTA reported yesterday morning, these were not new dollars but dollars already allocated for other state services, programs, or agencies. While TRTA does not oppose the Texas House evaluating its budget priorities and determining how TRS can receive higher appropriations, TRTA already has been engaged in an ongoing discussion with House and Senate leaders to make improved appropriation levels possible for TRS programs.

TRTA remains concerned that outside organizations seem to be involved actively in pushing for the budget reallocation efforts. We know they will try to beat up members who voted for the originally planned budget allocations, stating that these votes were putting other spending priorities above retired teachers.

These groups, however, do not support TRTA positions and retirees’ interests in preserving the defined benefit pension plan and TRS-Care health insurance program. TRTA members need to send a clear message to all House members: “Thank you for seeing through the rhetoric being foisted into the budget decision process about TRS retirees.”

TRTA is the voice for all TRS retirees—an organization with a 60-year track record of protecting and improving TRS. The organizations that want to attack legislators for their votes last night are on record as wanting to do away with our defined benefit plan.

TRTA believes that every legislative member was acting on their commitment to TRS retirees. The level of support for retired educators in the Texas House came through loud and clear all day. Your influence on the Texas House floor diminished many attempts to politicize what truly was a good-natured debate on the funding of our state’s commitment to TRS retirees.

Your voice is being heard. We need you to make it loud and strong over the next week! Please thank these legislators for their hard work and commitment to finding new solutions to our core issues: protecting the defined benefit plan, making the pension fund actuarially sound, improving TRS-Care funding, and finding a way to provide a real retirement increase for TRS members!

As you send your thank you letter, keep in mind that many of these legislators will be attacked for their votes on these various amendments. TRTA commends every legislator who worked through the process to find ways to improve TRS. We do not support the attack rhetoric against legislators for their work on the budget. TRTA members, your voice is important and is needed to cut through the negativity and keep our legislators focused on helping advance ideas we know are helping our core legislative values.

Again, thank you for your support and action today. It has made a major difference. We continue to be encouraged by the work being done in the Texas Legislature. The budget debate will move forward, and bills are being heard to improve your TRS pension fund. More work is still needed; but you are helping advance a strong TRTA legislative agenda!

As a final thank you, TRTA is very appreciative of several key House members last night: House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts; House Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Otto; House Energy Resources Chairman Jim Keffer; House Pensions Chairman Bill Callegari; and Representative Bennett Ratliff (while so many others worked behind the scenes and soldiered support on the House floor!). These members are working hard for you. If one of these legislators is your State Representative, please be sure to thank them on behalf of ALL TRTA members.

Concluding Comments

TRTA is so appreciative for your support and help on these vital issues. We are making good progress this session. Remember that many other groups are working to counter your best interests. They are trying to quiet TRTA, minimize your issues, and ultimately defeat our legislative agenda and advance their own.

Their agenda is not designed to protect your pension. It is designed to eliminate the defined benefit plan completely, and remove the access TRS retirees have to a quality health care plan and true retirement security.

The most important defense we have against that agenda is the work we do in the legislative process. Please, take the time to be active and click here to send a thank you note to your Texas House member.

We still have a long way to go this session and we can win many more victories as long as legislators know we are active, we are not going to be minimized or dismissed, and that high-dollar political organizations cannot defeat motivated, educated, active, vocal, smart retired public school employees!

Help us push on this session. If you are not a member of the Texas Retired Teacher Association, please consider joining in our efforts. Membership is $25 per year. Feel free to contact our office at 1.800.880.1650 for membership enrollment information.

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04 Apr 2013
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TRTA Action Alert–Budget Debate Today; Email Campaign Underway

TRTA Action Alert: Email Campaign Underway… Please Click here to send your legislator an email asking them to support the Ratliff and Keffer amendments!

Texas House Ready to Debate Budget

TRTA Members Focus on Our Needs

The Texas House of Representatives will debate their version of the Texas budget this week. The Senate voted out their version of the budget the same day that TRTA hosted its Day at the Capitol two weeks ago. The House has their chance to make TRS a higher priority, and we must get all our members active in this process!

TRTA members have been working very hard for more than a year in preparation for this session.  Now, we need to continue to make legislators aware of our needs. The good news is that your work is paying off! So far, we have seen our supporters in the Texas Legislature restore all the cuts that were made to the TRS fund and TRS-Care last session! This is a direct response to your involvement and our collective efforts through TRTA! Thank you.

In addition to the restoration of the cuts, both the House and Senate are putting more money towards the pension trust fund.

As you may know, Representative Jim Keffer filed HB 1383 to increase funding for the TRS pension fund to 6.9% in FY 2014 and 7.4% in FY 2015. While neither the Senate nor the House version of the budget supports this level of funding, Chairman Keffer is pushing an amendment to do so in tomorrow’s budget debate. His amendment directs funding for his legislation to Article 11. This section of the budget is often referred to as the “wish list” article, but it keeps the funding discussion alive and is a very important procedural component in the Texas legislative process.

TRTA is also supporting an amendment by Representative Bennett Ratliff. This amendment requires that any TRS pension fund “settle up” dollars that may be owed back to the state instead go to the TRS-Care fund. This method of “settle up” was used in the previous biennium, placing $98 million into the TRS-Care fund.

TRTA members can support Chairman Keffer and Representative Ratliff by clicking here to send an email asking your legislators for their votes on these two important amendments.
TRS-Care in the News

TRTA members should know about a discussion taking place in the Texas House over several amendments that have been filed to redirect state budget dollars from numerous programs or agencies to the TRS-Care plan.

While TRTA believes that this is a genuine attempt to help find additional funding for the TRS-Care program, or at least increase awareness of TRS-Care funding challenges, there are a few issues that cause concern.

It is important to note that these amendments are budget redirections, not the allocation of new resources to TRS-Care. This means that one agency or program will be reduced or completely eliminated, and their funding would be used for something else.

TRTA participated in every opportunity of the Texas House budgeting process. We know that every program has a constituency, and any change in the proposed budget results in a new or different policy decision by the Legislature.

TRTA also knows that we have worked hard to get accomplished our part of the budget for TRS-Care, and that these efforts are projected to keep the plan, its benefit structure, and the premiums completely intact for the rest of this year and the next two years.

Further, TRS projects the plan will still have a $100 million surplus at the end of the coming fiscal year. These are very positive results for the hard work being done by TRTA members.

We support the efforts of our long-time friends House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts and House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education Chairman John Otto, who have been instrumental in working with all the House Appropriations committee members to protect your TRS-Care program. They know the issues we face in the future, which are substantial. We know that all House members will be ready to work with us in the future to deal with the TRS-Care challenges coming in the nextbiennium.

Outside Groups

It is strange that some other outside organizations have taken special note of this amendment discussion.

One organization, that does not have a track record of supporting your TRS defined benefit plan, expressed on their web site that “several GOP freshmen have pre-filed amendments seeking to cut wasteful government spending in favor of addressing the state’s major unfunded teacher pension liability. How the rest of the GOP caucus votes will be telling.”

The organization further states that “while unfunded pension liabilities are a serious problem for state and local governments that require systematic reforms – the state cannot ignore the growing liabilities of TRS – the fifth largest public pension in the U.S. as of last September. Cutting wasteful government in order to fulfill the state’s current obligation is responsible budgeting.”

We agree that the state should not ignore TRS! The fact is that for 13 out of the last 18 years the Texas Legislature has underfunded TRS. This underfunding has saved the state money, but has cost the pension fund over $8 billion in funding.

We are not sure why this particular organization has not helped TRTA champion adequate state funding for the TRS pension system. As we mentioned, they do not have a track record of supporting your TRS defined benefit or TRS-Care health insurance program.

We are also puzzled by what this organization means when they talk about “systematic” reforms. Without any additional information, we can only guess that they are suggesting the elimination of the defined benefit pension system and the implementation of a defined contribution system. As TRTA members already know, the defined contribution system brings with it numerous funding problems and reduces retirement security for all TRS retirees—many of whom do not participate in Social Security.

It is also important to point out that the filed amendments are redirecting state resources to TRS-Care, not the TRS pension plan. This outside organization is messaging that these amendments are going to offset the “growing liabilities of the TRS.”

The final issue is this: “a list of amendments, including ones redirecting funding to TRS obligations, subject to scoring on the Fiscal Responsibility Index will be posted by Wednesday morning.”

TRTA members, please see this statement and think about what your elected officials are being asked to do. Are they being asked by this organization to support budget strategies to improve your pension system that protect your defined benefit plan? Is their goal to help you get a much needed increase? Are they acting as champions for your interests in the same way that TRTA is trying to make a positive difference for you? Are they willing to stand up and tell us if they fully support a defined benefit plan for all current and future TRS retirees, and that they will do whatever it takes to get the system actuarially sound? Will they reject any organization that is promoting the passage of “systematic” changes to your retirement fund?

Yes, there are many other organizations that want to keep “score” on legislator votes, and that’s their prerogative; but TRTA is interested in an organization’s track record as much as their web site statements.

Another outside group, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, that is on record supporting legislation for the elimination of the TRS defined benefit pension plan, is now supporting this budget redirection for TRS-Care. Again, this strategy seems very dubious to TRTA. An organization with clearly different goals on the values our TRTA members hold most dear are now circulating a flier that states, among other things, “Fundamental reforms are needed to stabilize the program, but we should take steps today to rein in spending on less essential functions of government and prioritize the health care of our teachers who have done so much for the school children of Texas.”

Again, TRTA questions what the TPPF means by “fundamental reforms” for the TRS-Care health insurance program. If it is anything like their “fundamental reforms” of the TRS pension fund, current and future retirees would be much worse off.

TRTA maintains that the Legislature is now debating its budget priorities for the coming biennium. TRTA members can be assured that the issues important to you are a much higher priority this session. Again, this is the result of your hard work and dedication. Thank you.

What is important to know right now is that TRTA is in no way finished working with the Texas Legislature to improve your pension fund, protect your health care, and do our best to get you a much needed pension increase.

As TRTA members can attest, your organization has a 60-year track record of working in the legislative process to protect and improve TRS benefits for all public education retirees. No other organization in Texas has a mission that is exclusively focused on TRS benefit protection. Being your voice in the Texas Legislature is our daily priority; your retirement security, the future of the TRS defined benefit, and the preservation of TRS-Care are our core organizational values.

Can the same be said for these other organizations that are now taking a position on TRS-Care for these budget redirections?

TRTA Supported Amendments

TRTA was directly involved with the two amendments we are asking our members to support. That’s what our members need to know and ask their legislators to support. Click here to send your legislator an email asking them to support the Ratliff and Keffer amendments!

If the Texas Legislature finds additional ways to help TRS-Care or the TRS pension fund, we certainly appreciate their work.

Concluding Comments

TRTA members, we need your help! The budget discussion is always one of the biggest moments in the Texas Legislature. Please send your email today!

If you cannot email your legislator, please feel free to contact them by using our toll-free TRTA Legislator Hotline! That number is 1.888.674.3788.

As always, we thank you for your membership! We are making strong progress this session. Let’s remain united, active, and involved. If you are not a member and want to join, please contact our office at 1.800.880.1650. TRTA dues cost $25 per year.

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28 Mar 2013
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TRTA Supports Measure that Assures Funding Level

Member Effort to Secure Additional Co-Sponsors Has Major Impact

The House Pensions Committee this week heard a bill by Representative Charles Perry (Lubbock). HB 99 is a bill that requires the state to tie their base-level contributions to the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) to no less than what the federal government requires in contributions for the Social Security program.

This legislation has tremendous actuarial value for the TRS fund. In 1995, the Texas Legislature dropped its funding to TRS from 7.31% of the aggregate active teacher payroll to the constitutional minimum of 6%. At that time, the decrease in funding for TRS was said to be temporary, meant to last for only one biennium.

It was not until 2007 that the Legislature raised their contribution to the TRS fund. If the Legislature had at least contributed the same amount that the federal government requires private employers to make on behalf of their employees to Social Security (6.2%), TRS would have over $1 billion more in the trust fund today. In other words, that 0.2% difference has cost your TRS fund over $1 billion.

Worse than that, if the state had maintained a 7.31% funding level, the pension trust fund would have over $8 billion more today!

TRTA has long held the position that the state’s underfunding of the TRS pension fund is one of the main reasons that retirees have not had a real cost-of-living increase in 12 years and the system is not actuarially sound today.

The market losses in 2001, 2008, and 2009 also played a significant role in the unfunded liability; but so does state funding policy. 95% of Texas school employees do not participate in Social Security, and the state and school districts have saved billions of dollars over the years by not making contributions to the federal program.

The TRS pension fund is a tremendous value for the state, school districts, and all school employees and Texans. We should do all we can to improve the condition of the fund, and make it the best funded and protected pension program in the country.

Representative Charles Perry has taken a very positive step with HB 99. Representative Perry proactively met with TRTA before the session began about his concept of creating a funding level that should not be less than what is required by Social Security. While the state can, and should, put in higher contributions (up to 10% of the aggregate active teacher payroll per the Texas Constitution), this proactive approach would assure TRS participants and retirees that the state could not contribute the bare minimum.

TRTA agrees with Representative Perry. We believe this bill should be advanced this session!

More Co-Sponsors on HB 1383
It has only been one week since the TRTA Day at the Capitol, and the impact is still being felt in the Texas Capitol. Many legislators continue to comment on our members’ organization, positive attitude, knowledge of the issues, and passion for protecting and improving benefits for TRS retirees.

Before last Wednesday, there were just over 30 co-sponsors on Representative Jim Keffer’s bill HB 1383. This legislation calls on the Texas Legislature to increase funding for the TRS pension fund to 6.9% in FY 2014 and 7.4% in FY 2015. This legislation now has over 70 co-sponsors!

TRTA knows that many others will join us in the cause. Please review the list below and see if your legislator has joined as a co-sponsor on HB 1383. If so, send them a note of gratitude or call their office to thank them. Feel free to use the toll-free TRTA Legislator Hotline(1.888.674.3788). Please encourage your legislators to keep their focus on helping TRS get on a path to actuarial soundness this session.

If your legislator has not signed on to HB 1383, please call and ask them to support this important legislation. TRTA has a goal of 100 co-sponsors! We know it can happen! It will take a few minutes of your time, but let’s work together to send a strong message to the House that we can and should do more to fund TRS!

Representatives Who Already Support HB 1383

 

Jim Keffer 463-0656
Roberto Alonzo 463-0408
Donna Howard 463-0631
Susan King 463-0718
Bennett Ratliff 463-0468
Alma Allen 463-0744
Charles “Doc” Anderson 463-0135
Trent Ashby 463-0508
Dwayne Bohac 463-0727
Dennis Bonnen 463-0564
Greg Bonnen 463-0729
Cindy Burkett 463-0464
Lon Burnam 463-0740
Bill Callegari 463-0528
Angie Chen Button 463-0486
Travis Clardy 463-0592
Tony Dale 463-0696
Drew Darby 463-0331
John Davis 463-0734
Sarah Davis 463-0389
Marsha Farney 463-0309
Allen Fletcher 463-0661
Dan Flynn 463-0880
John Frullo 463-0676
Charlie Geren 463-0610
Larry Gonzales 463-0670
Lance Gooden 463-0458
Bobby Guerra 463-0578
Patricia Harless 463-0496
Linda Harper-Brown 463-0641
Abel Herrero 463-0462
Dan Huberty 463-0520
Bryan Hughes 463-0271
Jason Isaac 463-0647
Kyle Kacal 463-0412
Ken King 463-0736
Phil King 463-0738
Tracy King 463-0194
Lois Kolkhorst 463-0600
John Kuempel 463-0602
Lyle Larson 463-0646
George Lavender 463-0692
Tryon Lewis 463-0546
J.M. Lozano 463-0463
Eddie Lucio III 463-0606
Marisa Marquez 463-0638
Armando Martinez 463-0530
Ruth McClendon 463-0708
Jose Menendez 463-0634
Borris Miles 463-0518
Doug Miller 463-0325
Joe Moody 463-0728
Sergio Muñoz, Jr. 463-0704
Elliott Naishtat 463-0668
Poncho Nevarez 463-0566
Rene Oliveira 463-0640
John Otto 463-0570
Chris Paddie 463-0556
Diane Patrick 463-0624
Charles Perry 463-0542
Larry Phillips 463-0297
Joe Pickett 463-0596
Ron Reynolds 463-0494
Allan Ritter 463-0706
Kenneth Sheets 463-0244
JD Sheffield 463-0628
Ralph Sheffield 463-0630
David Simpson 463-0750
Wayne Smith 463-0733
Jonathan Stickland 463-0522
Ed Thompson 463-0707
Chris Turner 463-0574
Jason Villalba 463-0576
Hubert Vo 463-0568
James White 463-0490
Gene Wu 463-0492
John Zerwas 463-0657

Representatives Who Have Not Yet Co-Sponsored HB 1383!  We Need Their Support!

 

 

Carol Alvarado 463-0732
Rafael Anchia 463-0746
Jimmie Don Aycock 463-0684
Cecil Bell, Jr. 463-0650
Dan Branch 463-0367
Terry Canales 463-0426
Giovanni Capriglione 463-0690
Stefani Carter 463-0454
Garnet Coleman 463-0524
Nicole Collier 463-0716
Byron Cook 463-0730
Philip Cortez 463-0269
Tom Craddick 463-0500
Brandon Creighton 463-0726
Myra Crownover 463-0582
Yvonne Davis 463-0598
Joe Deshotel 463-0662
Dawna Dukes 463-0506
Harold Dutton 463-0510
Craig Eiland 463-0502
Gary Elkins 463-0722
Patrick Fallon 463-0694
Joe Farias 463-0714
Jessica Farrar 463-0620
James Frank 463-0534
Helen Giddings 463-0953
Craig Goldman 463-0608
Mary Edna Gonzalez 463-0613
Naomi Gonzalez 463-0622
Ryan Guillen 463-0416
Roland Gutierrez 463-0452
Ana Hernandez Luna 463-0614
Harvey Hilderbran 463-0536
Todd Hunter 463-0672
Eric Johnson 463-0586
Tim Kleinschmidt 463-0682
Stephanie Klick 463-0599
Matthew Krause 463-0562
Jodie Laubenberg 463-0186
Jeff Leach 463-0544
Oscar Longoria 463-0645
Trey Martinez Fischer 463-0616
Rick Miller 463-0710
Geanie Morrison 463-0456
Jim Murphy 463-0514
Rob Orr 463-0538
Tan Parker 463-0688
Richard Peña Raymond 463-0558
Mary Ann Perez 463-0460
Jim Pitts 463-0516
Four Price 463-0470
John Raney 463-0698
Debbie Riddle 463-0572
Eddie Rodriguez 463-0674
Justin Rodriguez 463-0669
Toni Rose 463-0664
Scott Sanford 463-0356
Matt Schaefer 463-0584
Ron Simmons 463-0478
John Smithee 463-0702
Drew Springer 463-0526
Phil Stephenson 463-0604
Mark Strama 463-0821
Joe Straus 463-1000
Van Taylor 463-0594
Senfronia Thompson 463-0720
Steven Toth 463-0797
Scott Turner 463-0484
Sylvester Turner 463-0554
Mike Villarreal 463-0532
Armando Walle 463-0924
Paul Workman 463-0652
Bill Zedler 463-0374

Thank you for being a member of TRTA and a valuable asset to our statewide grassroots team! If you are not a member and would like to join, please call us at 1.800.880.1650.

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