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04 Mar
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TRTA Day at the Capitol Announced: March 20, 2013!

1000+ Education Retirees to Descend on Austin!

TRTA Day at the Capitol is set for Wednesday, March 20, 2013. 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 info@trta.org with questions or comments.

Please note that a limited amount of rooms are blocked for the event at the Drury Inn North in Austin for the night of March 19 only.  You can call 800-325-0729 and reference group #2171809 or “TRTA Day at the Capitol.” You may also use the following link: http://www.drurynotels.com?Reservations.aspx?groupno=2171809

  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 20.  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 20 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 volunteers to take pictures with you (and your group) and your legislator(s). Starting at 10:00 a.m., TRTA volunteers will be in the Capitol building in the Historic Old Supreme Court Room on the third floor. 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 to meet in the Supreme Court Room 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).  Contact the Drury Inn for details. .  You can call 800-325-0729 and reference group #2171809 or “TRTA Day at the Capitol.” You may also use the following link: http://www.drurynotels.com?Reservations.aspx?groupno=2171809.
  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 20 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 will not host an outdoor rally this year, but we will have a press conference at approximately 12:00 p.m. The location is still being determined, and another email will be sent soon with the final details. Also, 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 20 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 20. 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 20. For now, we ask that you begin making phone calls and letting your legislators know we are looking forward to SEEING THEM ON MARCH 20!

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02 Mar
0

Special Update

Pension Funds Are Not in Crisis

QR Interview with Pensions Chairman Bill Callegari

TRTA Members,

Below is a story that appeared on the Quorum Report web site. The Quorum Report is an online political column and is operated by Harvey Kronberg. Their web site is http://www.quorumreport.com/.

This particular story is a Q&A session with new House Pensions Committee Chairman Bill Callegari. The story is written by reporter John Reynolds and originally appeared on the Quorum Report web site on March 1, 2013.
TRTA has met with Chairman Callegari and we know that he is taking a good look at the state pension plans. In particular, we know he is very aware of the funding challenges that TRS has struggled with. TRTA knows that 15 out of the last 18 years, the Texas Legislature chose to underfund the TRS pension fund. If the state would have maintained its 7.31 percent contribution that it reduced to 6 percent in 1995, TRS would have approximately $7 billion more in pension trust fund. It would also be actuarially sound.
Now, TRTA continues to fight against the idea that there is a pensions crisis in Texas. We are also working to improve the actuarial soundness of our pension fund, get retirees an increase, and protect our health care.
It is clear from this interview with Pensions Chairman Bill Callegari that this is a person who respects facts over rhetoric. Thank you Chairman Callegari for your service in the Texas Legislature.

 

 

March 1, 2013      3:44 PM

 

A QR Q&A WITH HOUSE PENSIONS CHAIRMAN BILL CALLEGARI

 

The newly installed chairman tasked with one of the House’s more important legislative portfolios shares his thoughts on whether the state’s public pension systems are in crisis. Spoiler alert… he doesn’t think so.
House Pensions Chairman Bill Callegari (R-Katy) sat down this week with QR to talk about his steep learning curve as the new guy holding the gavel in one of the chamber’s most important standing committees.
In our talk, he said, for the most part, public pensions are in good shape and he discounts talk that they are in the type of crisis that has led towns in other states like California to declare bankruptcy.
The systems “I’ve seen thus far are in reasonably good shape,” Callegari said in our interview. “There’s some in not so good shape. None of them I would consider in crisis at this point. But my drive is going to be to try to get them to the point where they’re unquestionably not in crisis.”

And he pretty convincingly put the kibosh on speculation that lawmakers might look at moving the state’s employee and teacher retirement systems away from their current defined benefit plans this session.
We reprint below the entirety of our Q&A with Callegari:
Q: When Pensions was set up this session, there was a lot of reorganization because you split Pensions basically into two. And, of course, you’re new to Pensions. If you could just tell me a little about the learning curve from your perspective?

A: Well, it’s been very interesting because, you know, I didn’t know a whole lot about Pensions except kind of a nominal knowledge that most people have and having dealt with it to a small extent in my business in past years. I had a general feel for what it’s all about but a lot of the details about pensions, particularly state pensions, I just didn’t know. So it’s been a real steep learning curve. It’s been good on the other hand because it makes you dig into things … when you realize you don’t know anything, you dig a little deeper than you would otherwise. And I think it’s been very helpful. I find the same thing with the rest of the committee. The entire committee is new to Pensions and I think they’ve all tried to dig in and learn some things they didn’t have before and I think having a new group of people involved … anytime you look at anything with fresh eyes you see things that people before didn’t see or overlooked because they heard it so many times. So I think from that standpoint, it was probably … more positive than I would have thought if I had been asked before I was appointed.

Q: We’ve seen one of you bills now already in committee, HB 13, which you are basically carrying (Comptroller) Susan Combs’ transparency agenda for public pension systems. I was going to ask you aside from that, what you see as kind of the big components of your agenda for Pensions this session

A: Well, you know, one of the both problems and advantages of having been appointed to it more or less at the last minute is I don’t have any preconceived ideas of what I ought to do. It became apparent to me very early though that even though our pensions, most of our pensions, are in relatively good shape, there are some concerns. And it didn’t take long to pick up on some of the indicators. For instance, one of the main indicators that they use is fund ratio. And fund ratios, you know, the common thinking seems to be that if fund ratios is above 80 percent, it’s OK. Well, my observation after studying it a little while is that’s probably not the way it started. My observation is it probably started with the actuaries making a comment that if your fund ratio is below 80 percent, you may be in trouble. I think over the years that’s been kind of flipped around to say if you’re above 80 you’re OK. And it’s not the same thing. So I worry about pensions that, you know, think that if I’m at 80 percent, I’m OK. And particularly, one of the other great measures is amortization period. If my amortization period is 30 years or less, I’m OK. Well, you know that may be an OK position, but it’s not the desired position. So I have determined pretty early on that we want to drive to a couple of things. I want to get as many pensions as we can closer to or even above 100 percent and I want to get the amortization rates down to zero if possible but certainly well below 30 and, you know, again to ultimately get them to zero so that our pensions are healthy and they can do what they need to do. And then let the earnings give them the ability to get the cost of living adjustments or whatever they need to do.

Q: What would be the legislative tools available to the committee to do that?

A: Well, it varies with every type of pension quite frankly whether it be the employees pension or the teachers pension or whether it be firemen or, you know, the county system or the city’s TMRS (Texas Municipal Retirement System) … each one has its own characteristics, if you will. But for the most part, I think everybody needs to look more closely at the vesting period. Make sure that they’re broad enough to where the people who deserve the pensions get them but there was one, for instance, that allowed vesting in it at a certain age and with just five years’ experience at one time. Well, that’s too limited. So I think they need to look at that. But you look at vesting periods. You look at such things as, you know, who’s making contributions or are the contributions being made on a regular basis? And what can we do to level those out and make sure that the contributions match where they have to be in the future? And I think there’s some that are very healthy from that standpoint, particularly a lot of the municipal systems where there’s pretty good contributions from both the employees and the cities. I think in some of the areas like in teacher retirement, I think there is probably a need for us to increase our contributions from the state side for teachers. I think at the same time, though, and there’s been some discussion about that, I think, among the teacher groups. And they’ve talked about, you know, if we can get an increase … on the state side, maybe we would ask the teachers to contribute a little more, too, everybody contributing a little bit to the long range viability of those pensions.

Q: Well, that’s rather important and I guess I would ask, are you going to be carrying legislation on that?

A:  I am working very closely with, and understand that this has been just barely over three weeks. So we’re still getting our feet under us. But, yeah, I’m talking to those pensions, the employee pension, the state, you know, the teacher pension … talking to them about recommendations that they might want to make regarding those issues. There is some legislation that has been introduced by others that will increase state contributions. So we’re starting in that direction.

Q: One of the things that we constantly hear during the interim and we heard it as well in the hearing on Monday, the talk of pensions systems in crisis. Invariably you hear mention of out of state systems. Is it your perception that Texas pension systems are in crisis?

A: No, my perception is that for the most part those that I’ve seen thus far are in reasonably good shape. There’s some in not so good shape. None of them I would consider in crisis at this point. But my drive is going to be to try to get them to the point where they’re unquestionably not in crisis. And that means driving towards those key indicators – a 100 percent funding … 10 or less years amortization rate – to really make sure that we’re in a very healthy position so that if we have a market crash, we’re at a point where if we fall off, we don’t fall off very far. What you have to realize is that it only takes one day to lose 20 or 30 percent of any kind of fund, whether it is pension or anything else. It takes years to build it back. And that’s what we have to be prepared for. I would say that I don’t think we’re in crisis but I think we have to make sure that we start right now to be sure that we’re not in crisis. And there are two ways to do this. One is by legislation. We’ll do some legislation. But also just providing the leadership to tell them this is where you need to be. If you don’t get there, we’ll make you get there. We’ll give you a chance to get there first. That’s the way I tend to do things and what I want to strive for is give them the opportunity to do what they have to do. And if they don’t, I think we have to look at legislation.

Q: One final question keying off again on the crisis question. Outside groups have leveraged this idea of pensions systems in crisis to advocate some very fundamental changes to the way pensions are dealt with. Moving from, again, defined benefits to defined contributions. From your perspective, do those types of reform efforts have any legs this session?

A: Well, I don’t think they will this session. Some of the pensions, like the TCDRS (Texas County & District Retirement System) and TMRS, have already gone to a cash balance plan. That has some elements of both, you know, the 401(k) approach and permanent, I’m trying to think of the right word, amortized pensions. They’ve got kind of a two-tier system. In terms of the state ERS and TRS, I don’t think we’re ready to even think about doing that. You know, I think there’s a real desire to try to keep those pensions as they are now, which are defined benefit processes. We just need to make sure that we beef up on the other side, the contribution side, to make sure we get there. And that they continue to be and maybe even get more conservative on the discount rates that they’re using to be sure that we’re tracking what’s happened today. You know, you look at these things over a long term period. So you look over 30 years and the history may be good. But I’m going to encourage them to start looking more specifically at more recent years and be aware that things can change much more rapidly in today’s world than it may have, you know, 30 to 40 years ago. And we just have to be very cognizant of that. And watch it both, I mean you still have to look at long term because that’s the way you invest. But you’ve got to know what’s happening in the short term so that you’re using the right percentages and amortization rates.

Q: I think that should about cover it. Do you have anything else that you would like to add?

A: No, just that I think there’s a lot of interest in that subject. I think Texas has done a really good job. The pensions in Texas have done a pretty good job of trying to stay viable. I know a lot of them have made changes in the past few years that have helped their situation and we just want to make sure they keep looking and never forget that the long term viability of the pension is the most important thing.

 

By John Reynolds

 

Copyright March 01, 2013, Harvey Kronberg, www.quorumreport.com, All rights are reserved

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01 Mar
0

Update on House Actions–TRS Budget Scenario looking better!

Click here to send an email on TRS funding and supporting TRTA legislative initiatives.
Momentum Building Around Supportive Subcommittee

Chairman John Otto Adds Emphasis to Helping TRS
The 83rd Legislative Session is unfolding quickly, and many elements of the TRTA legislative agenda are moving forward. We are pushing for legislative action on several fronts, including increased appropriations for the TRS pension fund and TRS-Care, and finding a way to help our members who are in great need of a benefit increase.

 

Thousands of TRTA members have drawn attention to this agenda by asking their State Representatives to support HB 1383—a bill authored by Representative Jim Keffer.

 

This push has made more legislators aware of our emphasis on making the TRS pension fund actuarially sound. While this is a multistep process, TRTA received some good news from the House Appropriations subcommittee working on TRS issues. Their deliberations have added about $136 million more into the TRS pension fund! This would increase the TRS appropriation to 6.6% in each year of the biennium. This recommendation is the highest level of funding support that TRS has seen in nearly 20 years!

 

While the suggested appropriation would not make the fund actuarially sound, it does signal a move in the right direction. We still have time this session to try to find additional funds necessary to achieve our goals. Make no mistake, the TRTA legislative team will do everything we can to protect your pension fund and improve your retirement security and benefits.

 

Increased appropriations discussions are very difficult, especially in an environment where so many programs experienced cuts last session. Considering the efforts that other groups have made to give the TRS pension benefit program a bad name, we clearly still have many supporters in the Texas Legislature. TRTA is grateful to Chairman Otto and the entire House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education for their focus on TRS. Now, let’s build this momentum and continue to push for making TRS actuarially sound!

 

An Effort Revived!

As many of you know, TRTA has many friends in the Texas Legislature. Two of those members are State Senator Robert Deuell and Representative Larry Gonzales.
These two members have refilled bills they championed last session. SB 643 and HB 103 are supplemental payment bills that would authorize TRS to make an extra benefit payment to TRS annuitants under certain conditions. We want these bills to gain traction and momentum in the legislative process.

We need your help. Please click the e-advocacy link at the top of this update to send an email on these important issues.
It has been 12 years since our TRS retirees have received a real cost-of-living raise. It has been 5 years since a supplemental payment was issued in 2008. Our retirees are paying almost 300% more for gasoline and over 250% more for ground beef than they did in 2001, the time the last increase went into effect.
These bills would use excess pension fund earnings to support a supplemental payment for TRS annuitants. They would not have an adverse impact on the fund, as they maintain minimum levels of funding for the TRS pension fund. The bills would not guarantee anything more than a one-time additional payment (keeping the overall cost very low for the system).
Again, we need your help. Please use the e-advocacy link above to send an email about these important bills.
Thank You

There has never been any doubt in my mind that the best advocates in Texas are retired public school employees! You are all doing an amazing job of communicating with your legislators. Our members have sent over 10,000 emails to legislators this session, and it’s only the beginning of March!

Our legislative teams have made hundreds of visits and we have learned a great deal. Perhaps one of the most significant lessons we have learned is that nearly every legislator we have talked with supports the TRS defined benefit pension plan! You are doing a great job educating our elected officials about how the fund works. They know that the fund is in good fiscal health (though we are working to make it even better), and that the best bang-for-the-buck for existing and future public school retirees is the defined benefit traditional retirement plan.
Thank you for what you have done to help this session. We still have a long way to go, and TRTA is in no way slowing down its efforts to help you. We are encouraged that many long-time legislative members and even recently elected members are realizing the real value that TRS offers to Texas.
Keep up the good work, and thank you for your strong support. TRTA members are making a big impact!

If you are not a member and want more information about joining our efforts to protect and improve TRS, please contact us at 1.800.880.1650.

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