Blog

01 Jun
0

Primaries are Over, but the Need to Educate is More Important than Ever!

Now that the Texas primaries are behind us, many people think it is time for a summer break and that we can resume political conversations in the fall. However, TRTA members know the value of utilizing the months before the general election to educate candidates about our issues!

The lobby to eliminate defined benefit pension plans is growing every day. The war may seem to be occurring only in states where legislatures have inadequately funded their pension plans; but there are numerous groups here in Texas that want to see your TRS plan changed.

Some of those groups, such as the Texas Public Policy Foundation and the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, are working daily to influence legislators to transition TRS from a defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan. TRTA is opposed to any change to the TRS defined benefit plan design. We will oppose any effort to eliminate these important benefits for future educators.

Remember, even though some may believe that these changes will only impact “future” retirees, a so-called “transition” would impact every TRS member, active or retired. While decision-makers may believe current retiree benefits are not the target, any change to TRS that reduces funding levels puts the fiscal stability of the TRS plan in jeopardy.

Preservation of the TRS defined benefit plan is not TRTA’s only issue. We MUST do all in our power to protect the TRS-Care health insurance program. Funding for TRS-Care was reduced last session.

The good news is that premium levels will not increase during the current biennium. This marked the 4th session in a row that TRTA was able to keep premiums from increasing! TRTA has worked with the Legislature to ensure premium costs stayed the same as a means of helping retirees who have not had a pension increase since 2001.

Now, TRS-Care is running out of reserve dollars to maintain benefits and premium costs. The Legislature was informed last session that the “temporary” cuts to TRS-Care would cause immediate funding challenges. TRS officials are working on many proposals to preserve benefits for TRS-Care participants.

Today, TRTA will attend a meeting of the TRS-Care Advisory Council. This group is chaired by long-time TRTA member and friend, Sue Passmore. TRTA will review these proposals and send you an update after the meeting.

The TRS Board of Trustees will meet next week to review proposals discussed at today’s hearing. We will address the TRS Board about these proposals. TRTA will not support any premium increases or benefit reductions for TRS-Care participants. We are ready to work with TRS on any plan that can reduce costs and maintain this vital health insurance benefit. The TRS Board, however, can only do so much. The Texas Legislature must be ready to fund this health care program appropriately.

TRTA’s Message to Candidates for Office

This summer, we know you will be engaged with your legislators and those seeking election in the fall. As you meet with your leaders, please share these TRTA Legislative Priorities.

  1. Preserve the TRS-Care health insurance program without increasing premiums or making drastic benefit reductions for plan participants. Provide any supplemental budget appropriations that are needed to keep this program funded and intact.
  2. Defend the TRS Defined Benefit Pension Plan—Attacks levied against public pension plans are growing to a fever pitch, but no other plan design can provide the same level of benefit at a lower cost to the participant or the taxpayer.
  3. Pension Increase—TRS retirees have had no permanent increase in their pension benefits since 2001! Over the past 12 years, the costs of goods and services have increased dramatically. The price of gasoline alone has risen 247%! Retirees need an increase in their benefits or should receive some form of supplemental payment.
  4. Pension Funding—TRS is a well-funded, well-managed pension trust fund. The state’s contribution level was cut last session. The Texas Legislature must restore and increase funding to keep this plan strong.
  5. Allow direct election of TRS Trustees—TRTA is calling on the Legislature and Governor to pass legislation that allows for member trustees on the TRS Board to be elected directly by their constituent representatives. While there are elections for these positions today, the Governor still has final choice of the top three vote-getters in a member election. Why should the Governor have final appointment of members to the TRS Board who are duly elected by their member representatives?

These are the top five legislative priorities identified by TRTA members. TRTA works on MANY other issues during the legislative session. TRTA is an expert on pension policy and our members are very involved in the legislative and political process. While TRTA does not endorse candidates, our members VOTE in high percentages in all elections. We watch, listen, talk, educate and vote!

If you want to know more about the issues listed above, or want to help protect and improve benefits for public education retirees, please contact TRTA at 1.800.880.1650.

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28 May
0

Memorial Day Thanks, and a Call to Action–Vote!

On behalf of the TRTA Board of Directors and the TRTA staff, I want to wish all of you a happy Memorial Day. We want to thank all of you who have not only served in our public classrooms, but to say a special “Thank You” to those who have also served in our armed forces. As the son of a retired US Army veteran, I know first-hand the time commitment and personal sacrifice our soldiers make in the name of protecting our freedoms.

Since 1997, the country has observed a National Moment of Remembrance at 3:00 PM (your local time). This one minute of silence is to reflect on all those who have served in our nation’s military and for those who made the ultimate sacrifice. It is also an important educational opportunity to tell younger generations about those who have served in our military.

Go Vote

Tomorrow is Primary Day. Many of you may have already participated in early voting, and we appreciate your participation in the political process. For those who have not yet voted, here are some important things to remember before going to the polls.

·         Many of tomorrow’s primary elections will be decided by the thinnest of margins. Your vote WILL make a difference.

·         You may think that your preferred candidate is “going to win without my vote.” That may not be the case! Everyone needs to think about their preferred candidate and then go and vote. Many groups have organized and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to influence these elections…your participation is critical.

·         Primary turn out has traditionally been relatively low. This cycle may be an exception. Considering retirees are generally the higher percentage of voters, and that TRTA members are even more aware of the issues and candidates important to them, your power in the polls cannot be overstated.

·         Many candidates have contacted TRTA about their support for the Defined Benefit plan and the TRS-Care health insurance program. When you go and vote, make sure your preferred candidate knows you supported their effort and that look forward to working with them on the TRTA legislative agenda.

·         TAKE THE TIME TO VOTE. SOMEONE ELSE IS COUNTING ON YOU TO STAY HOME AND THEY WANT TO STEAL YOUR INFLUENCE AND SILENT YOUR VOICE. LET’S MAKE SURE THEY HEAR TRTA LOUD AND CLEAR.

Have a great Memorial Day! Your support and membership helps TRTA protect and improve benefits for over 300,000 TRS retirees. Thank You for all you are doing to keep TRTA strong!!

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16 May
0

Teacher Retirement System Responds to Dallas Morning News Article

“Cherry picking one investment, either bad or good, amounts to viewing everything with 20/20 hindsight.”—TRS response to DMN

The Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) provided a response to the Dallas Morning News (DMN) story, “Texas teachers’ pension fund invests in casinos, loses $99 million.” In the response, TRS states that the reporter, “…selectively ignored relevant data, knowingly printed incorrectly calculated losses, and presented misleading or incomplete information when writing his article.”

TRTA has received numerous emails about this story. As we indicated in our last email update on this issue, we are committed to investigating this matter so that our members are comfortable with the facts and information presented in these reports. As TRS states in their response, we are all disappointed with any and every investment loss, but it is “unrealistic to expect every investment to be successful.”

The Teacher Retirement System response shows a track-record of TRS investment success. In the last three-years ended March 31, 2012, TRS made $45 billion in investment gains returning 17.8 percent per year. TRS also indicates that the $99 million loss is one tenth of one percent of the $14 billion Real Asset program at TRS.

Most TRTA members know the track-record of TRS and that its investment division has worked to find the best investments with the best terms to produce the highest possible returns for the trust. Yes, there are real questions being raised about how TRS is moving in various directions to ensure maximum return. Yes, some have raised real questions about other TRS investment policies such as the incentive compensation plan used to reward employees for their work with the fund. Yes, TRTA is working closely with our members to ensure that your questions and concerns are expressed to the TRS Board and the reasonable steps are taken to ensure the highest level of return and protection of your TRS pension system.

The Teacher Retirement System of Texas has many policies and procedures in place to protect your pension fund and the integrity of the investment process to ensure that outside political influence is not part of their decision making process. The pressure exerted on TRS from numerous outside parties (not just political figures) demands that these policies are understood and enforced.

At this time, TRTA does not have any evidence to suggest that any investment was made as part of a pay-to-play scheme or that campaign contributions were made to any elected official as a reward for a TRS investment. If evidence is provided, TRTA is certain the proper investigation would occur not only by TRS, but by all other oversight authorities connected to TRS.

We believe that good investigative journalism is a critical element of the public trust in any government institution. The Dallas Morning News and the Teacher Retirement System of Texas are both presenting information they believe is relevant. It is important to read this information and ask questions about these investment decisions.

TRTA has questioned TRS about these issues. At this time, TRTA is satisfied with answers provided by TRS about the implications of the investment gains and losses as they relate to the Station Casinos investment, as well as the $45 billion in investment gains TRS has made in the last three years.

TRS has a great burden of investing these pension trust fund assets on behalf of its 1.3 million active and retired education employees. That burden does not begin and end with their investment procedures. It has a lot to do with trust, and proving to the members, taxpayers, elected officials, and the business community that their decision making process will not be corrupted by anyone for any reason. TRS Texas has many awards and numerous accolades recognizing their ability to make solid investment decisions that have resulted in great returns for all TRS members.

TRS Texas is regarded as one of the best managed large public pension plans in the country. TRTA members’ expectations on “good fund management” also means their actions will always put the interest of the trust fund members ahead of any political figure or business interest. While all these trustees may be appointed by the Governor, their fiduciary responsibility and loyalty is to the pension fund member and no one else. This is not only our expectation, but it is what is required by the Texas Constitution.

The actions made by this agency must always reflect the prudent management of this pension fund for its members…the active and retired school employees of Texas. TRTA believes these volunteer trustees do act in your best interest. That said, TRTA will always be a part of the process watching and listening to the decisions that are made about your TRS fund. It is the responsibility of Teacher Retirement System of Texas to manage this fund in a way devoid of political influence. It is TRTA’s responsibility to be engaged in this process, watch and listen as decisions are being made, and take any action that may be necessary to help protect and improve your TRS benefits.

The TRTA Board of Directors and the TRTA staff will continue to follow this situation. We are working on additional updates to help explain the TRS investment decision process and provide details on how TRS works to avoid potential conflicts of interest.

Your questions and comments on this topic have been very helpful. We appreciate all the feedback you have provided. We are using these comments to frame our questions back to TRS on these important issues. As always, your voice is being heard and TRTA is working to get the answers to your questions.

We will keep you posted as these issues develop. (Resources: DMN article from 5-13-2012; DMN Article from 5-14-2012; TRS of Texas Response to articles)

Early Voting Underway

You may already know that the Texas Retired Teachers Association does not have a political action committee (PAC), and that we do not endorse candidates for political office. What TRTA members do, though, perhaps more than any other group is VOTE! Many of you have already gone to the polls during this important primary. Our members’ voting is the most effective way to help advance the TRTA legislative agenda and enhance our ability to make a difference in the legislative process. If you have questions about an incumbent’s work with TRTA or the bills they have sponsored or cosponsored, please feel free to contact us.

Thanks for the Great Early Response, Let’s Keep it Going!

So many of you have taken the time to renew your membership with TRTA, and at this early stage in the membership drive we want to say “Thank You!” Inside Line subscribers know the great threats we face in the coming months. Your membership is TRTA’s primary source of revenue to conduct all operations including our legislative outreach and education programs. We are grateful for all our members and appreciate your response to our recent TRTA renewal letter.

Many of you join through a local unit and we encourage all TRTA members to get involved in one of our more than 260 local chapters around the state. We also have a growing out-of-state membership that is a vital part of this organization. To all of you, thank you.

We know times are tough and there are many demands on your resources. Your confidence in and support of the Texas Retired Teachers Association is greatly appreciated. Last year was another record setting membership year. TRTA would love to tell legislators our membership has swelled to 80,000 or more! We can do it. Let your friends, fellow retirees, and colleagues know that TRTA dedicates all its time and organizational efforts to protecting and improving your TRS retirement benefits.

If you are not a member or want to know more about renewing your TRTA membership, please contact our office at 1.800.880.1650. We are open Monday through Friday from 8 AM until 5 PM. We are happy to help in any way we can.

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