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22 Feb
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Pensions Committee Update–February 22, 2011

TRTA Advocates for Protection of the Pension Trust and Retiree Health Care

House PIFS Committee Told Care Premiums May be on the Rise

The House Pensions, Investments, and Financial Services (PIFS) committee met today to hear invited testimony from state, county, and municipal pension fund directors, as well as to receive invited testimony from many constituent groups representing trust members.

Tim Lee, Executive Director of the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA), testified on behalf of the association. As this was an organizational meeting for the PIFS Committee, Mr. Lee provided oral testimony on what the Texas Retired Teachers Association does for its members and how we operate as a statewide association. Mr. Lee also provided written testimony on issues relating to Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) and retired public education employees. Several of these comments are provided below.

  • The TRS plan is not experiencing a funding crisis, and has rebounded very well after the major decline in its assets in 2008;
  • While the fund is not in financial crisis similar to other states, the TRS plan is not actuarially sound;
  • The plans to reduce funding for the TRS pension trust fund and the TRS-Care plan will have a significant and negative impact on both funds;
  • TRS retirees have been hit hard by inflationary pressure, as well as increased federal tax withholdings;
  • Many retirees are receiving much less in their annual retirement than what they were receiving when they may have retired;
  • TRS provides economic security for 1.3 million Texans, but it also provides a large economic benefit for all Texans;
  • TRS RETIREES HAVE NOT HAD A TRUE COST OF LIVING INCREASE SINCE 2001.

TRTA testimony stated that Texas does not have a crisis in its pension funding based on overly generous benefits or excessive cost, but Texas public education retirees are experiencing a crisis in loss of buying power and threat of decreased health care funding. These are the issues Texas lawmakers need to find ways to address this session.

Many TRTA members echoed these sentiments in email responses and TRTA Facebook postings. In addition to the above comments, our written testimony included some information from TRTA members that addressed the federal tax table change, how increased medical costs are impacting retirees, and the need to maintain state funding for the TRS pension trust fund.

Thank you to all TRTA members that posted their comments on our Facebook page or who sent an email. This was a great resource in preparing today’s testimony.

Possible TRS-Care Increase

TRTA is working hard to restore funding for the TRS-Care program. We are very appreciative of all the active education constituent groups that are also making this a top priority this session. TRS has already voted to increase premiums on Active Care participants (a plan designed for active school employees) by 9.5 percent. With proposed budget scenario that cuts TRS-Care funding in half, premium increases for TRS retirees is a paramount concern for TRTA.

In public testimony before the House PIFS Committee today, TRS Executive Director Ronnie Jung said that the cost share for retirees for TRS-Care could be much higher, especially if the state reduces its contribution rate. The increase would be based on several factors:

  • State contribution decreases from 1 percent to 0.5 percent of the aggregate active teacher payroll;
  • This would account for a loss of approximately $150 million each year of the biennium (or $300 million in total);
  • The TRS-Care plan may be eligible to receive as much as $135 million per year from the federal government early retirement reinsurance program if the legislation is not declared unconstitutional and implementation remains on track;
  • The federal dollars will likely be lost, though, if the state cannot certify maintenance of effort for funding TRS-Care at levels similar to previous biennia;
  • This results in a potential maximum loss of $285 million per year that may need to be restored through other funding resources to maintain the level of benefits already provided by TRS-Care;
  • The result could be an increase in TRS-Care retiree cost share as high as 50 percent in the coming biennium.

While it was stressed that these are “worse case scenarios” and that premiums “may” increase, the obvious conclusion is that reduced contributions for TRS-Care translates into significant premium increases for plan participants sooner than later.

TRTA staff and volunteer leaders are working everyday to send a positive message to legislators on how beneficial the TRS plan is for its members and for all Texans. Good progress is being made and MANY legislators are commenting on the excellent communication they are receiving from their TRTA constituents. Thank you for this hard work. As we move through the next several weeks, the budget process will continue to move forward and we will work diligently to restore the proposed cuts to the TRS pension trust fund and the TRS-Care program. In addition, we will add our “TRTA Bill Tracker” to the web site and provide specific information on legislation designed to help TRS retirees this coming biennium. We are so grateful for your membership and look forward to continuing these efforts throughout this legislative session.

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21 Feb
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House Pensions Committee Meeting Tomorrow

The House Pensions, Investments, and Financial Services (PIFS) Committee will conduct its first meeting tomorrow, February 22, 2011. Representative Vicki Truitt returns as Chairwoman for the PIFS Committee. TRTA has been invited to share some brief comments on the issues most important to our members this session.

Tim Lee, TRTA Executive Director, will represent TRTA at this hearing. TRTA is very concerned about the proposal to reduce funding for the TRS pension trust fund, as well as the TRS-Care health insurance program. In addition, TRTA members know that TRS retirees have not had a pension increase in 10 years. With no pension increase in 10 years and the decrease in fixed incomes due to increased federal taxes, TRS retirees need some form of benefit increase.

TRTA is your voice in the Texas Legislature. Many TRTA members have contacted us with issues and items they want the legislature to be focused on during this session. If you would like to send your ideas on items that TRTA should bring before the House Pensions Investments and Financial Services Committee, please send a short email with your comments and we will do our best to bring these issues to the attention of the committee members.

In addition, you may want to leave some suggestions or comments on the TRTA Facebook page by clicking here. We will provide a complete update after tomorrow’s meeting.

So far this session, TRTA members have sent more than 30,000 emails to legislators asking for them to make public education retirees a priority this session. We are so appreciative of your help and support. Thank you for all you do to keep Texas Retired Teachers Association a strong voice for all public education retirees.

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17 Feb
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House Appropriations to Discuss TRS Budget Today

TRTA to Testify on Need for Pension and Health Care Funding

TRTA members have already sent more than 15,000 emails to legislators this session. Now, TRTA volunteers and staff are preparing to testify in the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education today (Monday, February 14). This subcommittee will analyze the TRS budget request. TRTA will report on the need for increased contributions to the TRS pension trust fund and for the TRS-Care health insurance program.

TRTA needs your help! Let’s send a strong message to the members of the House Appropriations Committee reminding them of the need to fund these critical TRS programs adequately.

Normally, TRTA email campaigns are legislative-district specific. This time, all TRTA members are able to email the entire House Appropriations Committee.

If you want to help send a strong message to House budget writers, now is the time to take action! Just click this link and send an email to the members of the Texas House Appropriations Committee.

TRTA will update you on the committee’s actions after today’s meetings.

Thank you for your help and for being a supporter of the Texas Retired Teachers Association!

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