16 Mar

TRTA Rally in 1 Week!

Education Retirees to Descend on Austin in 1 Week!
TRTA Day at the Capitol is set for Wednesday, March 23, 2011. This statewide event will raise awareness on the issues most important to Texas public education retirees and encourage immediate legislative action to address them.
TRTA hopes to have a big crowd at the event! District and local leaders are making transportation plans to visit Austin, and the TRTA staff is happy answer any questions you may have.  Below are some important facts you need to know about TRTA Day at the Capitol. Please call 1.800.880.1650 or email with questions or comments.
1.    What time will the event start? TRTA has a general start time of 9:00 a.m., though staff and volunteers will be there to greet you by 8:00 a.m. The Day at the Capitol has been scheduled on a Wednesday so that participants close to Austin or those spending the night may be able to attend some morning legislative committee hearings.  Those wanting to visit a legislative committee hearing will need to check with TRTA a few days before the event to see what committee meetings are scheduled for that date.
2.    When will the first TRTA event happen? TRTA members are asked to make their way to the House gallery (3rd floor) no later than 9:30 a.m. on March 23. We hope to fill the House and Senate visitor galleries with members so that they will be recognized by legislative leaders.  TRTA will have a proclamation read into the record recognizing March 23 as TRTA Day at the Capitol. Upon the statement being read into the record, TRTA members are ENCOURAGED to APPLAUD WITH GREAT ENTHUSIASM! TRTA is also working with legislative leaders on making a presentation to the House and Senate regarding the number of volunteer hours, donated books, and steps walked by TRTA members over the past year.
3.    What about the Senate? TRTA will seek the same recognition from the Senate for our retirees and the aforementioned programs. Typically, the Senate starts their floor session about an hour after the House convenes. Although these schedules are subject to change, TRTA recommends that members make their way to the Senate gallery by 10:30 a.m.
4.    When will we visit the legislators? The TRTA Day at the Capitol is ultimately about our members making their presence known to their elected officials.  Depending on your planned arrival time, early morning legislative appointments can be made between 7:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. As mentioned earlier in this article, TRTA wants to have as many members as possible in the House gallery by 9:30 a.m. and the Senate gallery by 10:30 a.m. TRTA members should be able to make additional mid-morning and afternoon appointments between 11:30 a.m. and 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. (depending upon how long members are able to stay).

Keep in mind that many legislators may be attending committee meetings that morning. If you know that your legislator(s) is scheduled to be in a specific committee, you may want to visit that committee hearing before it starts or as it is finishing so that you may see them before the start of the floor session.

Also, it is perfectly acceptable to visit with your legislator’s key staff.  These hard-working, dedicated employees are responsible for letting their boss know what you have to say. If you cannot see your legislator, visiting with their staff is a very good way of delivering the TRTA message.

5.    Is there another way to find my legislator(s)? TRTA will have numerous volunteers in two strategic locations to take pictures with you (and your group) and your legislator(s). Starting at 9:00 a.m., TRTA volunteers will be in the Capitol building on the second floor in front of the legislative chambers (both the Senate and the House). If your legislator(s) is unable to meet you in their office, you may want to suggest that they work with you to set a time in front of the Senate or House chambers to meet your group and have a picture taken for publication in your local unit newsletter, website, and/or in your local newspapers.
6.    Will TRTA provide handouts?  Yes.  TRTA is developing a one-page handout that you can provide to your legislator or their staff.  The important part is that you, as their constituent, are the person delivering this information.  TRTA members coming to the Day at the Capitol will also receive a free commemorative TRTA Advocacy tote bag!  Bags and information will be handed out at the various Capitol building entrances.
7.    How can I find other TRTA members in my area who plan to come to this event? TRTA District Presidents and local unit leaders may be chartering buses, planning carpools, or helping to connect members that may be coming on their own for this event.  If you do not know how to contact local TRTA leaders in your area, click on this link and it will take you to the TRTA Local Unit Web Page site.  If you are not sure what local unit serves your area, please contact the TRTA state office at 1.800.880.1650.
8.    I am coming on my own and am thinking about spending the night. Where is a good place to stay?  Some TRTA members may want to stay at the Drury Inn at I-H 35 North (St. John’s Avenue Exit).  This hotel is providing a special room rate, depending on the room booked and the number of guests per room. Contact the Drury Inn for details. Please call 512.467.9500 and refer to Group #2109235 to make your reservations.
9.    What are some other important items I need to know? Perhaps the most important fact to know about visiting the Texas Capitol is that it is ALWAYS very busy. Plan your schedule at least 30 minutes in advance of where you need to be. If you set a meeting with your legislator in a certain part of the building, plan on a 20-minute timeframe to get from where you are to where you want to go.

All Capitol entrance doors require visitors to pass through metal detectors and have their bags searched. TRTA members who have a Texas-issued concealed handgun license (CHL) may use a quicker security line that bypasses metal detectors and bag search. Buses coming to the event must unload passengers on the east side of the Texas Capitol. Due to the LONG lines that may form at the Capitol’s east door, TRTA members that are willing and able should utilize alternate Capitol entrances (north, south, and west). (Please be aware that the only wheelchair accessible ramp is located at the Capitol’s north entrance).

10.What should I wear?  TRTA members are encouraged to wear red shirts. This is the color we have used in previous sessions, and it makes our crowd instantly recognizable. We suggest wearing comfortable clothes and shoes. Making a good impression is ALWAYS important, but this will be a LONG day for many of our members from outlying TRTA districts and local units. 
11.Will there be a central staging or rally area? TRTA is planning an outdoor rally on the south steps of the Capitol at 1:00 p.m. All are encouraged to attend! Between 12:30 and 2:30 p.m., TRTA will host an old-fashioned ice cream social under the tent on the east lawn. Please invite your legislators and their staff to attend. There is no program for the social, just free ice cream, water, and fun with your legislators and fellow TRTA members!
12.I am not able to come, but I want to help. What can I do to make this event successful for TRTA? A special email campaign is being developed about the March 23 TRTA Day at the Capitol. Those who are not able to attend may make phone calls and send emails announcing and promoting the event to their legislators. TRTA is hoping for a tidal wave of grassroots communication about this event to legislative offices from now until the big day. We want every legislator in Texas to know that TRTA is coming to the Capitol on March 23. On the day of the event, TRTA will also have another special email and telephone campaign for those who were not able to come.
TRTA IS THE VOICE FOR EDUCATION RETIREES, and we want to be seen and heard that day.
We want to thank all of you who plan to attend or help us communicate with legislators about the big day.
The planning is well underway and we are looking forward to having as many members as possible here for this legislative event. Your phone calls, emails, and presence in Austin are all going to help advance the issues most important to you and your retirement. Again, thank you for all you do! TRTA will continue to update you on our plans for March 23. For now, we ask that you begin making phone calls and letting your legislators know we are looking forward to SEEING THEM ON MARCH 23!

Read More
11 Mar

TRS Pension Fund Soars Above $108 Billion

TRS Pension Fund Soars Above $108 Billion

Benefits Guaranteed Through 2083


The Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) released its February 28, 2011 valuationtoday. This report takes a snapshot of the fund’s value and provides that information to the legislature. The good news for TRS members is the fund’s value is $108.2 billion. While the value did go up, the unfunded liability increased to $25.7 billion and the funded ratio dropped to 81.3 percent. This is a result of the system’s “smoothing” investment losses from the market downturn, a reality that will occur the next few years.

The valuation is positive, indicating that the system is recovering from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. The system’s market return is 14.5 percent, which helped the fund increase in value from $95.7 billion on August 31, 2010 to $108.2 billion now.

The valuation also points out that the fund is not actuarially sound. The state contribution required for actuarial soundness is 8.16 percent. The valuation does not report on the level of contribution necessary to provide retirees with a permanent increase in their annuity benefit, but it would certainly need to exceed 8.16 percent.

The valuation takes into consideration the legislature’s funding proposal to decrease the state contribution to 6.0 percent, but assumes maintenance of active member contributions at 6.4 percent. With these contribution assumptions and the assumed annual rate of investment return at 8 percent, the fund has enough money to pay benefits through 2083.

If, however, the state simply maintained the same contribution (6.644 percent) as the last biennium, the fund would not exhaust itself until 2112. The investment performance gains helped increase that number by 40 years since the last valuation.

TRTA is calling on the legislature to maintain and increase pension contributions this session.

Current retirees should consider this a very good valuation for TRS benefit payments. There is, however, more work and commitment needed on the part of the legislature if retirees can expect to receive a benefit increase now or in the future. While some legislators are questioning the state’s commitment to the defined benefit plan, this report should give pause to anyone questioning the tremendous value the TRS pension fund provides public educators and all taxpayers.

TRS is an important component of the Texas economic engine. It provides retirement security to 1 out of every 21 Texans, over $6.6 billion in annual benefits, over $900 million in state and local tax revenue, and can be credited for 91,500 permanent Texas jobs. Why any legislator would want to diminish these great economic outcomes for the citizens of Texas is troubling.

TRTA credits Representative Kenneth Sheets for pulling down his legislation, HB 1974, which would eliminate the TRS defined benefit plan. Still, Representative Warren Chisum has filed HB 2506 as a measure that will eliminate the TRS and ERS defined benefit plan for all current and future employees. TRTA believes Representative Chisum should follow the example of Representative Sheets and pull this bill from further consideration. TRTA Legislative Committee members met with Representative Chisum last week. TRTA will meet with Representative Chisum next week.

TRTA’s core value is the preservation of the defined benefit pension plan. This valuation shows that TRS is doing a good job managing your pension fund assets. The legislature should do more to ensure the fund’s actuarial soundness and help provide current retirees with a much needed benefit increase. For informational purposes, the valuation states that every ½ percent increase in state contribution costs $140 million in general revenue dollars per year. Any additional contribution in the fund is an investment in the retirement security of public education retirees and employees.

Legislators need to know you support the restoration of budget cuts to the TRS health care and pension trust fund. If you have already sent an email to your members, thank you. If you want to send an email or communicate further with your legislators about protecting your pension and health care benefits, please click here.

Your communication is vital to these efforts. TRS-Care funding is particularly important, as premium increases in the coming biennium may be as high as 30 to 80 percent if is not restored. We need to work together to educate legislators on this untenable position.

TRTA will continue to work with legislative members to protect and improve your pension benefits and ensure the integrity of your TRS-Care health insurance program. Thank you for your support in these efforts and your membership in the Texas Retired Teachers Association.

Read More
10 Mar

House Budget Work Moves Forward

House Appropriations Committee Discusses TRS Budget

Full Committee Hears Testimony on Proposed Cuts

TRTA Action Alert—Click Here to Send Email Now Asking Legislators to Restore TRS Funding. TRS-Care participants could see premium increases of 30 to 80 percent in the coming biennium! TRS pension funding is being cut by nearly $500 million. Action is needed now. See complete update below.

The House Appropriations Committee listened to testimony by representatives of the Legislative Budget Board (LBB) and the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) on the current House budget recommendations. TRTA was at the hearing and the news is troubling.

Pension Trust Fund Contribution

The proposed budget recommendation offered by the House Subcommittee on Education and the LBB is to cut funding for the TRS pension trust fund from 6.644 percent to 6 percent. This will cost the fund nearly $500 million for the biennium from all funds. The current plan does not lower active member contributions; but a law passed in 2007 that requires that the state never pay less in contribution than the active members. This is an issue. Still, the House budget writers suggest the active members will make the same contribution of 6.4 percent that they have been making since 1984.

TRTA Comments: This reduction will do nothing to make the system actuarially sound and is in conflict with current Texas statute that prevents lowering state contributions when the fund is not sound. The TRS pension fund can sustain this reduction for the biennium with little change to the system’s actuarial condition, but it does NOT create a plan to provide retirees with a real cost of living increase.

TRTA Recommendations: The legislature should restore a level of contribution to the TRS pension trust fund of no less than 6.4 percent. Further, TRTA recommends that the state adopt a funding plan that raises the contribution to 7.2 percent for the first year of the biennium and 7.7 percent for the second year.

TRS-Care Funding

The House budget proposal cuts TRS-Care funding in half, from 1 percent of the aggregate active teacher payroll to 0.5 percent. This will cost the health care plan $300 million in state funding for the biennium. The state risks leaving $135 million in federal dollars on the table by not demonstrating maintenance of funding effort for the plan. While the state legislature may save money in general revenue outlay, it is costing the health plan nearly $600 million in funding from all sources.

TRTA Comments: TRTA members who participate in TRS-Care need to know that the legislature’s inadequate funding of this program will lead to premium increases. There is much speculation about how much those increases may be. With a flood of new retirees entering the program due to state budget cuts to public education, the projected premium increases are in the double digits. TRTA has heard that they may be as much as 30 to 80 percent, depending on legislative action this session.

Special Note: State Representative Craig Eiland made a special effort in this afternoon’s hearing to draw his fellow members’ attention to the FACT that an increase in TRS-Care premiums is a drain on TRS retirees’ fixed incomes. Representative Eiland stated the following: retirees have not had a permanent increase in their annuities in 10 years; as TRS-Care premiums go up, the drain on pensions is immediate; TRS retirees are already paying substantial premiums for access to their health care.

TRTA can once again credit Representative Eiland for speaking plainly about how these cuts will impact TRS retirees.

TRTA Recommendation: TRTA is calling on the Texas Legislature to restore full funding for the TRS-Care program.

TRTA members can act now by clicking here to contact your legislators about this important funding priority. We need all the attention we can generate on these important funding issues.

Budgeting Process Continues

Today’s hearing is significant, as this was one of the last times the House Appropriations Committee could make significant changes to the budget plan they will take to the House floor. While the budgeting process is far from over, more progress on restoring the proposed budget cuts to TRS-Care and the pension trust fund is needed.

This meeting was just another step in a very long process. TRTA is meeting daily with members on making TRS funding a priority for our members. Legislators need to know that retiree “fixed incomes” are more aptly described as “diminishing incomes,” thanks to federal tax increases and a true loss of buying power. We must continue to work together and contact legislators throughout this legislative session.

Thank you for your tireless effort and your steadfast support for the Texas Retired Teachers Association. Please take a few minutes to email your legislators and ask them to restore funding to TRS-Care and the pension trust fund. Retired public education employees deserve better.

Read More