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06 Apr
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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
0

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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15 Mar
0

Keep Affordable Health Care, Defend the Defined Benefit Plan!

TRTA Convention Legislative Luncheon: Additional Speakers Announced

The study of the defined benefit plan and TRS-Care moves forward. As you know, the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) has been directed by the legislature to study the TRS benefits of current and future retirees. Some legislators and a number of politically motivated interest groups believe TRS retirees should not have a defined benefit plan. In addition, TRS projections show that the TRS-Care health insurance program will be financially distressed by the start of next session.

TRTA is working vigorously to protect and improve your TRS benefits. As part of the education process, TRTA has focused extensively on these issues in our news publication, The VOICE. Copies of these articles can be found online at www.trta.org.

Our focus now is to participate in the TRS study at every possible opportunity. Our objective is to educate all interest groups, legislators, the media and the general public about the benefit of maintaining the TRS defined benefit plan and TRS-Care. Meeting with our friends in the active educator community, partnering with active school employee groups, doing interviews with media outlets, and being engaged with our TRTA members are a few examples of our education campaign.

Never forget that the most important part of this education campaign is you! You can help by communicating with legislators and knowing the facts. We appreciate your work on behalf of TRTA and your dedication to these issues.

TRS Study Update

Maridell Fryar, TRTA First Vice-President, provided testimony to the TRS study panel on March 12. A copy of her comments is provided below. In addition to TRTA’s prepared remarks, the association gave a detailed written statement from Tim Lee, TRTA Executive Director. Most significantly, dozens of local TRTA members attended the TRS town hall meeting while many more watched the live webcast online.

This meeting was one of the early steps in the study process. Another TRS town hall meeting is set for April 4 in Haltom City. TRTA members are encouraged to attend if possible. TRTA state leaders will testify on the value and importance of TRS.

TRTA is working on numerous new resource materials to assist you in your grassroots outreach and educational efforts. Many of you already have the TRTA Fact Pages provided in the last two issues of The VOICE. Please use these fact pages, as well as Maridell Fryar’s testimony, when speaking with legislators or sending letters to your local newspapers.

TRTA Convention will be a BIG Event

The upcoming TRTA Annual Convention may be the largest in our association’s history. Thank you to everyone who will attend, and especially to the volunteers in District 4 for all of their hard work in preparing for our arrival.

Many of you (over 530!) have signed up to attend the TRTA Legislative Luncheon on March 27. That event is now sold out, but we are not excluding any convention participants from hearing and seeing our guest speakers. We will broadcast the event in a separate location.

We are pleased to announce the addition of three legislators for the luncheon. Senator John Whitmire, Representative Alma Allen, and Representative Larry Gonzales will join Representative Dan Huberty for a lively discussion led by Tim Lee. We know you will want to hear this great panel, and be involved in the many other programs, training sessions and business activities at the 59th Annual TRTA Convention.

 

We will continue to update you as the TRS studies move forward. Thank you for your membership in and support of the Texas Retired Teachers Association!

 

Maridell Fryar, TRTA First Vice President, Comments at TRS Town Hall Meeting March 12, 2012

Good afternoon. My name is Maridell Fryar, and I serve as First Vice-President of the Texas Retired Teachers Association. As the voice for public education retirees, TRTA is grateful to TRS for performing the studies on the pension fund and TRS-Care because it is important for the facts to be clear.

We hope that the study about the pension fund will address several pertinent issues:

  • The study should address the importance of a secure retirement income. TRS provides security to over 300,000 retirees. Without the TRS defined benefit pension, retired public school employees would have no other source of reliable income. This income is an economic stabilizer that prevents retirees from using social programs such as welfare and food stamps.
  • The study should also consider that 95% of school employees in Texas do not pay into Social Security. TRS, however, is a better plan that provides a larger benefit to annuitants at less cost to taxpayers and individuals than Social Security.
  • The study should address the great value TRS provides for the state. The current TRS defined benefit plan has been around for 75 years and during this time, only 20% of the funding has come from taxpayers. Another 20% comes from active employees, and the plan earns 60% on average on investments. TRS retirees are putting money back into the Texas economy, generating $970 million in state and local revenues. This is a great bargain for Texas taxpayers.
  • It is important that the study address the cost efficiency of DB plans versus defined contribution plans. A study by the National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS) found that a DB plan provides the same retirement income at nearly half (46%) the cost of an individual 401(k)-type DC account. TRS is able to keep costs low for its members because it is pre-funded, professionally managed, and has the benefit of the economy of scale and pooled financial risks.

Although the TRS pension fund provides a secure retirement, much of retirees’ income is spent on rising healthcare costs. TRTA hopes that the study on TRS-Care will address adequate funding for the TRS-Care health insurance program.

  • TRS-Care covers over 230,000 participants. The study should consider that these participants already make major contributions to their care, including premiums, deductibles, co-pays and prescription costs. Their premiums alone fund 31% of the program; and combined with other costs, retirees pay for nearly 50% of the program.
  • The study should also identify the differences of health care costs for public education retirees and other retirees in TRS such as higher education retirees.
  • We hope that the study will identify a funding mechanism for the program that is more aligned with rising healthcare costs instead of payroll. While payroll remains flat, health care costs keep rising. The current mechanism is mismatched.
  • Finally, we hope the study takes into consideration the fact that TRS retirees have not received an annuity increase in nearly 12 years. The money available to retirees to cover rising health costs is diminishing.

We at TRTA understand the challenges you face as you undertake these studies. We appreciate your diligence and implore you to keep the best interests of public education retirees in mind as you proceed, such as a secure retirement income and access to affordable health care.

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