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12 May
0

House Speaker Straus Emphasizes Importance of Retiree Health Care for State Budget

Earlier this week, Texas Speaker of the House Joe Straus released a letter to the members of the House Appropriations Committee regarding his concerns for the state budget and the many factors that must be considered during the 85th Legislative Session that begins in January 2017.

One of those concerns is the TRS-Care retiree health insurance program. Straus stated that “even with the critical infusion of funding to TRS-Care last session, a sustainable, long-term solution is still needed.”

Straus also noted that “writing a balanced and disciplined budget that appropriately funds our top priorities is going to be a significant challenge.” As the members of the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) know, TRS-Care faces a budget shortfall of $1.6 billion next session, putting the 250,000 participants of the program at risk of skyrocketing premium increases, benefit changes, or both.

The Texas Legislature has been making TRS-Care a priority during the interim between sessions, appointing a legislative committee to review potential solutions to the fiscal issues as well as the long-term sustainability of the program. The legislative members named to this group are: Senators Joan Huffman (R-Houston) – Co-Chair, Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), and Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls); and Representatives Dan Flynn (R-Canton) – Co-Chair, Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin), and Justin Rodriguez (D-San Antonio).

On March 30, the committee held its first hearing to discuss TRS-Care, which TRTA reviewed in the Inside Line. During the meeting, each legislator was divided on how to approach the conversation of solving the TRS-Care crisis.

Senator Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls) began the meeting by providing a statement of determination, but halfway through conceded that solving the crisis would require everyone to contribute.

Representative Phil Stephenson however was adamant that retirees should not have to have any cost increases or benefit reductions. “It should be the burden of the actives and the state,” Stephenson said.

Tim Lee, TRTA’s Executive Director, outlined the issues surrounding the program, including the prolonged issue of the program being a “pay-as-you-go strategy.” This current strategy required the state to provide $768 million to keep the program solvent through the current biennium, which is what Speaker Straus was referencing in his press release.

The bottom line is this: more revenue is needed to keep TRS-Care solvent. The current pay-as-you-go method has almost been as expensive as a pre-funded method. A pre-funded method would be similar to the TRS pension fund, which receives yearly contributions from the state, active educators, and school districts.

While pre-funding TRS-Care is the best option for its long-term solvency, and the method that would be most fair to plan participants, it is the most expensive option for the Legislature. It would cost the state a total of $2.7 billion during the 2018-19 biennium and $2.8 billion during the 2020-21 biennium to pre-fund TRS-Care.

Achieving pre-funding might be a lofty goal, as Straus indicated that the state sales tax has “registered five monthly declines,” and crude oil prices are averaging $37 per barrel, down from $60 per barrel. While Straus noted that Texas is “better able to weather the peaks and valleys of a volatile energy market,” he warned that Appropriations Committee members will have to make difficult choices to balance the state’s budget.

Though most education associations in Texas concurred that pre-funding was the best option for TRS-Care, the reality of how the fiscal issues with the program will be resolved remains to be seen, and will be a point of contention during the 85th Legislative Session.

The fact is that TRTA and our members are leading on this issue. We are grateful for the attention being given to TRS-Care; TRTA knows that we have many friends in the Texas Legislature. The solution to this difficult problem may include different benefit strategies; however, TRTA believes that no matter what may be discussed regarding the health care plan, a serious discussion on additional state revenue is needed to keep this plan intact now and for the future.

Said more simply, TRS-Care is out of money and all public education retirees participating in TRS-Care need to join TRTA in this fight for additional state funding!

Please encourage your fellow retirees, friends, and colleagues to become a member of TRTA as we work to protect your TRS-Care health insurance program. Click here to join TRTA or renew your membership!

Flooding Impacts Greater Houston Area

TRTA has thousands of members that reside in the Houston area. As you may have read in the newspaper or heard about on television, Houston and surrounding areas have experienced severe flooding as a result of torrential rains over the past several days.

At this time, we would like to remind all of our members that our charitable partner organization, the Texas Retired Teachers Foundation (TRTF), has a program to assist Texas public education retirees financially during critical emergencies. “A Helping Hand” began in 2010, and has assisted 88 retirees with over $84,000 in grants since that time.

TRTF is calling on members of TRTA to make donations to the program in anticipation of receiving applications for assistance. Members may donate online or call the TRTA state office at 1.800.880.1650 and ask to speak with the accounting department.

TRTF is also calling on members to let the organization know of any retirees who may need assistance. Applications for assistance are available by sending an email to help@trtf.org or calling 1.800.880.1650 and asking for Cindee Sharp. The program may be able to help retirees with purchasing food, performing home or car repairs, or with lodging due to displacement.

Thank you for spreading the word about “A Helping Hand.”

Thank You

Thank you for your membership to TRTA. We will continue to follow the progress on TRS-Care, and provide you many more opportunities to get involved!

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12 May
0

Primary Runoff Elections Coming Soon!

Thousands of voters turned out for the Texas Primary Election on Super Tuesday. According to the Texas Tribune, “more than 4.2 million Texans turned out to vote in the Republican and Democratic primary presidential elections, about 30 percent of registered voters.” We know that many of our members and their fellow retirees were a part of this dedicated group of people!

Many elections in Texas, particularly for seats in the Texas Senate and House, are decided during the Primary Election and not during the November General Election. A complete list of results from the March primary election can be found here.

While many races now have narrowed down the list of candidates for the Republican and Democratic seats to one contender, there are several runoff elections that our members should keep an eye on.

Be sure to mark your calendars and make a plan to get out and vote! Even fewer voters participate in a runoff election than in a primary election! That means even one vote — your vote! — can change the outcome of an election.

The Primary Runoff Elections will be held on Tuesday, May 24, 2016. Early voting will begin on Monday, May 16, 2016 and continue through Friday, May 20. Details about mail-in ballots and voter registration can be found here.

While it is common for voters to skip the Primary Runoff Election, TRTA wants our members to know that YOUR VOTE MATTERS! If you live in an area where there will be a Primary Runoff, get early voting on your schedule NOW! Please make voting a top priority this month!

Runoff Elections to Watch

TRTA will be following several races closely as the runoffs draw near.

Texas Senate Primary Runoff Races

Senate District 1
Senator Kevin Eltife is retiring. Republican candidates facing each other in the primary runoff are: Bryan Hughes and David Simpson. There are no Democratic candidates vying for this seat.

Senate District 24
Senator Troy Fraser is retiring. Republican candidates facing each other in the primary runoff are: Dawn Buckingham and Susan King. Democratic candidate Virginia Leeder won the Democratic primary.

Texas House Primary Runoff Races

House District 5
Representative Bryan Hughes has stepped down to run for the Texas Senate. The following Republican candidates will face each other in the primary runoff election: Cole Hefner and Jay Misenheimer. There are no Democratic candidates vying for this seat.

House District 18
Representative John Otto is retiring. The following Republican candidates will face each other in the primary runoff election: Ernest Bailes and Keith Strahan. There are no Democratic candidates vying for this seat.

House District 54
Representative Jimmie Don Aycock is retiring. The following Republican candidates face each other in the primary runoff election: Austin Ruiz and Scott CosperSandra Blankenship won the Democratic primary.

House District 73
Representative Doug Miller faces challenger Kyle Biedermann in the Republican primary runoff. There are no Democratic candidates vying for this seat.

House District 128
Representative Wayne Smith faces challenger Briscoe Cain in the Republican primary runoff. There are no Democratic candidates vying for this seat.

Thank You

Thank you for being a member of TRTA! If you are not a member and are interested in joining, please contact our Membership Department at 1.800.880.1650.

Protecting your retirement benefits is one of TRTA’s top priorities, and your participation makes all the difference! Be sure to stay tuned to our other digital mediums to stay informed on all the latest news and updates. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and subscribe to our YouTube channel.

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14 Apr
0

TRTA Hosts Successful 63rd Annual Convention

The Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) hosted its 63rd annual convention this week in Houston at the Westin Galleria. More than 1,000 members convened to enjoy fellowship, receive vital training from state counterparts and conduct the business of the association.

One of many highlights of the three-day event, Congressman Kevin Brady (R – The Woodlands) stopped by during the convention Opening Ceremonies to discuss his bill, H.R. 711, with attendees. Brady was greeted with the voices of 1,000 public education retirees singing happy birthday to him before he spoke about his years-long journey trying to repeal the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP). In a recent news article, Brady states that he is “cautiously optimistic” that the bill will pass this year. To learn more about the WEP and HR 711, visit this page.

The Texas Retired Teachers Foundation (TRTF), the charitable arm of TRTA, made several important announcements during the convention, including the introduction of the Lehr-Pritchard Endowment Fund. The fund is being created to establish long-term earnings that will be dedicated for TRTF’s most recognizable program, “A Helping Hand.” The grant program provides emergency assistance for Texas public education retirees in critical need. To date, more than $83,000 has been given to 87 retirees.


Jamie Larson (left), Tim Lee (center) and Ronnie Jung (right)
discuss the value of the Lehr-Pritchard Endowment Fund.

Members donated more than $10,000 during the Foundation’s annual luncheon to the endowment fund. The goal of the endowment fund is to reach $2 million in donations by December 31, 2019. TRTF is asking all members of TRTA to consider making a one-time donation of $30 to help the fund reach its $2,000,000 goal. Donations may be made online here or via snail mail by sending a check to TRTF, Attn: Endowment Fund, 313 E. 12th Street Suite 220, Austin, TX 78701.

TRTF also announced the creation of a new “Beginning Teacher” Scholarship, which will benefit recent college graduates pursuing a career in education in Texas by helping them pay for certification tests and supplies to set up their first classroom. This year’s Classroom Assistance Grants for public school teachers and Student Scholarships for graduating high school seniors were also announced. Read about the recipients here.

The TRTA House of Delegates, retirees representing the organization’s 257 affiliated local units, conducted association business on April 12. Members elected the following individuals to serve as officers of the state organization for the 2016-2018 term: Nancy Byler, President; Patricia Macias, First Vice-President; Leroy DeHaven, Second Vice-President; and Marcy Cann, Secretary/Treasurer. Members also voted positively on several bylaws amendments, including one that will allow the state Historian to become a voting member of the TRTA Board of Directors.

North San Antonio RTA member Carlos Ortiz was honored during the TRTA Awards Banquet with the prestigious E.L. Galyean Award for his many years of service. Mr. Ortiz has served in many capacities at the local unit, district and state level, including as a member of the TRTA State Legislative Committee and TRTF Board of Trustees.


Carlos Ortiz receives his E.L. Galyean Award
from TRTA President Fran Plemmons.

District 14 won awards for the highest percentage of membership gain, as well as highest total membership gain. Hamilton County ARTSP won the local unit award for the highest percentage of membership gain, and Abilene RTA won the local unit award for the highest total membership gain.

TRTA President Fran Plemmons was also honored with a special gift as she completes her term leading the organization. Under her leadership, TRTA’s membership has grown to over 80,000. Fran also created the President’s Diamond Award, which was presented for this first time during this year’s convention. The $1,500 award was presented to the Goliad County RSP for their advances in membership growth utilizing the TRTA Diamond Plus program.

About 800 attendees enjoyed a Legislative Luncheon, with the opportunity to hear from Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) Executive Director Brian Guthrie, and State Senators Joan Huffman and John Whitmire. The panel, led by TRTA Executive Director Tim Lee, enlightened the crowd about the problems plaguing the TRS-Care retiree health insurance program, potential solutions and state budget concerns.

TRTA appreciates the hard work of District 4 volunteers and the Leadership Training Committee members, all of whom worked non-stop to make the 63rd annual convention a great success!

Thank You

Convention is a great platform for learning and growing as an organization. For local unit committee chairmen and members, be sure to check out all of the convention resource guides now available on the TRTA website!

Next year’s convention will be held in Austin, and will include a TRTA Day at the Capitol event. As Senator John Whitmire stated numerous times during the legislative luncheon, our members must be engaged! Mark your calendars now for March 27-29, 2017, and plan to be the loudest, most unified voice at the Texas Capitol during the 84th Legislative Session.

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