13 May 2012

TRTA Members Concerned over Investment Loss

A news story in the Dallas Morning News is causing concern for many TRTA members about the safety of their pension trust fund. TRTA is investigating the TRS story in the Dallas Morning News. As you know, TRS has thousands of investments and this story, while it may be accurate, is not a significant reflection of how TRS works or the many other investments that succeed on TRS members’ behalf. This loss, while disappointing and costly, represents less than 1 percent of the fund’s overall value. The newspaper may have reported factually, but the frame of reference and the impact this one particular loss will have on the overall health of the fund is being reviewed.

The TRS Board of Trustees manages the $110-plus billion pension trust fund. The TRS Board is a volunteer group of business professionals and public servants working together to manage the assets held in trust for Texas educators and education retirees. In addition to the Board’s leadership, TRS has a very experienced staff dedicated to investing your pension trust fund dollars. Last year, the TRS Board and staff  achieved a TRS investment return that exceeded 15 percent. That translates into a $15 billion-plus investment return last year alone. Again, while some investments may be winners and others may not, it is important to maintain perspective and do our due-diligence when researching these stories. TRTA believes the Dallas Morning News has a very good reputation of reporting on TRS issues and this story is further evidence that many people are paying attention to this important state pension fund. TRTA will review the information in this article and work with TRS to report other details about the impact this loss may have on the fund.

As is the good news about the TRS fund, it is a professionally managed fund with a strong investment track record. The system is able to weather market ups and downs significantly better than other plans or individual investors. This is one of the key benefits of participating in a well-managed defined benefit pension system. TRTA is reviewing this article and we will provide additional information soon. For now, TRTA members can be assured that their pensions are safe and that we are working with the experts to gain additional perspective on this newspaper report.

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06 Apr 2012

TRTA Members Defend Pension Plan, Urge More Funding for Health Care Program

Important Announcement from TRTA: Former TRS Executive Director, Ronnie Jung, has joined the TRTA team! Mr. Jung retired from his TRS position this past January and is now bringing his exception pension fund knowledge and expertise to TRTA. Ronnie is a recognized internationally for his pension fund knowledge and we are honored to have him working with Tim Lee and the TRTA legislative team to protect and improve your retirement benefits. TRTA is committed to you and to having the best legislative team working on your behalf.

The TRS Board of Trustees continued their legislatively ordered study of alternative benefit/funding structures for both the pension and health care plans. More than 100 TRTA members attended the hearing (held in District 11 at the Birdville ISD Athletics and Fine Arts Center)making a strong statement that TRTA is the voice for all TRS public education retirees. TRTA wants to thank the many in attendance from the local Birdville Association of Retired School Personnel, as well as all in attendance from District 11 and District 10.

Mr. Bill Barnes, TRTA State Legislative Coordinator, provided strong testimony defending the TRS traditional defined benefits plan. “When I first started my career, I had a fellow educator tell me that one day I would depend on my retirement check from TRS. She said that while we may not earn a lot as educators, we have the promise of a good retirement,” he explained to the TRS panel. “She also told me that someday I may have to protect my retirement for both myself and for those still in the classroom…and that’s what we are here to do,” Barnes stated.

TRTA testimony pointed out that the TRS defined benefit plan is one of the best funded and best managed plans in the country and in the world. The demand for an alternative benefits structure stems from politically motivated individuals and groups that are not putting the best interests’ of educators or Texas first.

I am more and more convinced that this is nothing more than a manufactured ‘crisis,’ as I have heard no compelling argument to make change for Texas TRS,” said Tim Lee, TRTA Executive Director. “TRS has a great model of using combining private sector investment professionals with public servant trust fund members (both active and retired) to manage this fund…and the system’s performance cannot and should not be diminished,” Lee stated.

TRTA maintains that the study, while providing an opportunity to explain the great value offered to TRS members and all Texans, should bring a greater focus on the fact that the system’s benefit programs need additional funding to protect TRS retirees’ retirement security and their health insurance benefits.

“The real issue we need to work on this session is finding more funding to protect retiree health care premiums and the TRS-Care program,” Lee commented. TRS reported that the retiree health care program may be running a significant deficit in the next biennium without legislative action. “TRS retirees are already paying a great deal for their health care including premiums, prescription costs, and many other out of pocket costs. Forcing retirees to pick up the cost of fixing TRS-Care funding through increased premiums, benefit reductions, or both is not only unacceptable, it is impossible. Many retirees simply would not be able to afford it,” Lee explained. TRS-Care has been managed with great efficiency over its 25-year history, but medical cost increases are simply rising faster than the revenue streams that are used to support the TRS-Care program (retiree premiums, contributions by active employees, school districts and more).

In addition, the legislature reduced funding for the TRS-Care program last session. TRTA is calling for this funding to be fully restored and that any additional emergency appropriations be made next biennium to protect retiree premiums.

TRTA is working with many groups and coalitions to protect your retirement benefits. The power of retired and active TRS members working together cannot be overstated. As Mr. Barnes commented in his testimony, we are all in this together and we must stand strong against those who want to diminish the retirement benefits of our public educators.

Concluding Comments

TRTA values your membership and service! The war against public education retirees and active employee benefits is just now starting. TRTA is dedicated to protecting your TRS pension and health care programs. We are going to fight to help our retirees receive some form of pension increase. Protecting and improving TRS retirement benefits has been TRTA’s core operational activity for 60 years. We know the value of these benefits, we are the experts in pension protection, and you are the most vital part of our legislative outreach efforts. Thank you for all you do.

In the coming weeks, many of you will receive a TRTA membership renewal request. Some of you may receive an invitation to join TRTA for the first time. Please, we need everyone who is able to join with us in this fight to protect TRS benefits. Thank you for your consideration.

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22 Mar 2012

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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