18 Mar 2011

TRTA Day at the Capitol Update!

TRTA is hosting its Day at the Capitol on March 23. Please click here to send an email to legislators and their staff inviting them to attend and telling them we appreciate their work on our behalf.

In addition to thanking legislators for their work, TRTA is using this day to stress four primary legislative goals for the session:

  • Use any and all state resources to restore funding to TRS-Care health insurance;
  • Work with TRTA to pass legislation providing a pension benefit increase to TRS retirees;
  • Restore funding for the TRS pension trust fund; and
  • Promote the value of the TRS defined benefit pension plan.

As with all TRTA email advocacy campaigns, there is space at the beginning and end of the message for you to provide your own content. One suggestion is to let your legislator(s) know if you will attend the rally and if so, that you would like to visit with them personally when you arrive in Austin.

A look back at this week’s legislative happenings

TRTA testified in the House Pensions Investments and Financial Services (PIFS) Committee for HB 738 and HB 1061, authored by Representative John Otto. This legislation allows TRS to continue use of its current investment tools to manage the pension fund assets. It also adjusts the amount of assets TRS may invest in hedge funds from 5 percent to 10 percent. This investment tool is being requested by TRS to manage their overall investment risk. Representative Otto and Mr. Ronnie Jung (Executive Director for the Teacher Retirement System of Texas), suggested adding a sunset provision that ends the investment authority in 2019 (which is when the TRS sunset review process occurs in the Legislature).

The House Appropriations Committee is nearly finished with its work on a proposed budget to the full House. During their negotiations, House leaders and Governor Rick Perry agreed to use $3.2 billion of the “Rainy Day Fund” to meet funding obligations from the current biennium. This effectively frees $3 billion for use in the coming budget cycle.

Already, legislative leaders are focused on using these budget resources to fund deep cuts in education, health and human services, and corrections.

So far, however, the House budget writers HAVE NOT ALLOCATED ANY NEW MONEY FOR THE TRS HEALTH CARE OR PENSION FUND! TRTA is working with these members to restore, at minimum, $300 million to the TRS-Care health insurance program to avoid premium increases that may be as high as 30 to 80 percent! TRTA members can deliver this message to legislators personally during the TRTA Day at the Capitol next Wednesday.

Please send another email to legislators asking them to restore funding to the TRS health care program and the TRS pension trust fund by clicking here.

Final Thoughts

TRTA members are doing a great job sending emails and communicating with legislators. For those who are not able to attend next week, we will post a special email campaign so that you too can participate in the TRTA Day at the Capitol. Please do not forget that TRTA has a toll-free Contact Your Legislator hotline (888.674.3788) that you can use to call your legislators any time you wish.

Thank you for your hard work and dedication to TRTA!

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16 Mar 2011

TRTA Rally in 1 Week!

Education Retirees to Descend on Austin in 1 Week!
TRTA Day at the Capitol is set for Wednesday, March 23, 2011. 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 with questions or comments.
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 23. 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 23 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 numerous volunteers in two strategic locations to take pictures with you (and your group) and your legislator(s). Starting at 9:00 a.m., TRTA volunteers will be in the Capitol building on the second floor in front of the legislative chambers (both the Senate and the House). 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 in front of the Senate or House chambers to meet your group 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).  This hotel is providing a special room rate, depending on the room booked and the number of guests per room. Contact the Drury Inn for details. Please call 512.467.9500 and refer to Group #2109235 to make your reservations.
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 30 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 is planning an outdoor rally on the south steps of the Capitol at 1:00 p.m. All are encouraged to attend! 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 23 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 23. 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 23. For now, we ask that you begin making phone calls and letting your legislators know we are looking forward to SEEING THEM ON MARCH 23!

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11 Mar 2011

TRS Pension Fund Soars Above $108 Billion

TRS Pension Fund Soars Above $108 Billion

Benefits Guaranteed Through 2083


The Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) released its February 28, 2011 valuationtoday. This report takes a snapshot of the fund’s value and provides that information to the legislature. The good news for TRS members is the fund’s value is $108.2 billion. While the value did go up, the unfunded liability increased to $25.7 billion and the funded ratio dropped to 81.3 percent. This is a result of the system’s “smoothing” investment losses from the market downturn, a reality that will occur the next few years.

The valuation is positive, indicating that the system is recovering from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. The system’s market return is 14.5 percent, which helped the fund increase in value from $95.7 billion on August 31, 2010 to $108.2 billion now.

The valuation also points out that the fund is not actuarially sound. The state contribution required for actuarial soundness is 8.16 percent. The valuation does not report on the level of contribution necessary to provide retirees with a permanent increase in their annuity benefit, but it would certainly need to exceed 8.16 percent.

The valuation takes into consideration the legislature’s funding proposal to decrease the state contribution to 6.0 percent, but assumes maintenance of active member contributions at 6.4 percent. With these contribution assumptions and the assumed annual rate of investment return at 8 percent, the fund has enough money to pay benefits through 2083.

If, however, the state simply maintained the same contribution (6.644 percent) as the last biennium, the fund would not exhaust itself until 2112. The investment performance gains helped increase that number by 40 years since the last valuation.

TRTA is calling on the legislature to maintain and increase pension contributions this session.

Current retirees should consider this a very good valuation for TRS benefit payments. There is, however, more work and commitment needed on the part of the legislature if retirees can expect to receive a benefit increase now or in the future. While some legislators are questioning the state’s commitment to the defined benefit plan, this report should give pause to anyone questioning the tremendous value the TRS pension fund provides public educators and all taxpayers.

TRS is an important component of the Texas economic engine. It provides retirement security to 1 out of every 21 Texans, over $6.6 billion in annual benefits, over $900 million in state and local tax revenue, and can be credited for 91,500 permanent Texas jobs. Why any legislator would want to diminish these great economic outcomes for the citizens of Texas is troubling.

TRTA credits Representative Kenneth Sheets for pulling down his legislation, HB 1974, which would eliminate the TRS defined benefit plan. Still, Representative Warren Chisum has filed HB 2506 as a measure that will eliminate the TRS and ERS defined benefit plan for all current and future employees. TRTA believes Representative Chisum should follow the example of Representative Sheets and pull this bill from further consideration. TRTA Legislative Committee members met with Representative Chisum last week. TRTA will meet with Representative Chisum next week.

TRTA’s core value is the preservation of the defined benefit pension plan. This valuation shows that TRS is doing a good job managing your pension fund assets. The legislature should do more to ensure the fund’s actuarial soundness and help provide current retirees with a much needed benefit increase. For informational purposes, the valuation states that every ½ percent increase in state contribution costs $140 million in general revenue dollars per year. Any additional contribution in the fund is an investment in the retirement security of public education retirees and employees.

Legislators need to know you support the restoration of budget cuts to the TRS health care and pension trust fund. If you have already sent an email to your members, thank you. If you want to send an email or communicate further with your legislators about protecting your pension and health care benefits, please click here.

Your communication is vital to these efforts. TRS-Care funding is particularly important, as premium increases in the coming biennium may be as high as 30 to 80 percent if is not restored. We need to work together to educate legislators on this untenable position.

TRTA will continue to work with legislative members to protect and improve your pension benefits and ensure the integrity of your TRS-Care health insurance program. Thank you for your support in these efforts and your membership in the Texas Retired Teachers Association.

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