23 Jan

TRTA’s Message to Raise the Base Resonates in New Senate Bill

Executive Summary:

  • New Senate Bill offers plan to improve fund’s solvency
  • Show your support by completing TRTA’s action alert!
  • Full list of retiree-related bills posted.
  • Important for Legislature to increase base contributions to TRS pension fund.
  • Use #RAISETHEBASE when communicating with your legislators on social media.

The Texas Legislature has begun filing bills related to retiree issues. TRTA members need to know that many elected officials have come to Austin with you on their minds’. Bills are being filed to help TRS retirees and TRTA is tracking them all. 

 Of particular significance among the bills is Senate Bill (SB) 393. Sen. Joan Huffman (R – Houston) filed the bill. 

Huffman serves as the chair of the Senate State Affairs committee and is a long-time supporter and champion for improving the financial solvency of the TRS pension fund. 

SB 393 proposes to increase the state, district and member contributions to the TRS pension fund. An increase to the TRS pension fund is critical to the future health of TRS. 

In July 2018, TRS lowered its rate of return assumption to 7.25 percent. The lowered rate of return assumption makes it much more difficult for retirees to receive a cost-of-living increase (COLA). The long-term solvency of TRS for future retirees will be dramatically improved by the state implementing an improved funding plan. The bill potentially opens the door for a retiree COLA or some other form of benefit increase. 

One of TRTA’s major goals this session is to see the Texas Legislature vote to RAISE THE BASE. We want to see the base rate of contributions to TRS increased to a reasonable level that would provide TRS retirees and active members with an actuarially sound pension fund able to provide benefit increases to retirees in much need of a raise. 

Chair Huffman’s SB 393 is a major step forward in this ongoing discussion. While TRTA has promoted increasing the state share to TRS, the bill addresses all the revenue sources for TRS. It also is working to ensure there may be funding necessary to cover this cost for the active member contributors.

SB 393 was just filed on Friday, January 18th, and we are still analyzing the bill language. We are encouraged to see a bill that addresses the biggest issue facing our TRS pension fund—its long-term contribution policy.

On the health insurance side, TRTA is also encouraging elected officials to raise the base funding level for TRS-Care. The House uses Rainy Day Funds for Care and the Senate uses General Revenue.

While TRTA is grateful to see both the Texas Senate and the Texas House working to add more dollars to TRS-Care, these dollars may ensure retirees see no increased costs in the coming biennium, but another shortfall is on the horizon just two years into the future. Raising the base level contribution for TRS-Care will help ensure this program’s shortfall is not unmanageable in the future. 

How TRTA Members Can Help!

TRTA is encouraging its members to communicate with their fellow retirees that good things can happen and a positive outcome is possible! Legislators are working for you! TRTA members have been actively communicating with elected officials. Now, the legislators are in session, and many of them are thinking about the retirees and want to help. Let’s get behind these efforts in a positive way! Let’s work with a belief that good things are possible and will happen for TRS retirees. 

TRTA is encouraging its members to contact legislators on social media with the hashtag #RAISETHEBASE. You can find your legislators on Facebook and Twitter by doing a search for their first and last name. Not sure who your state legislators are? Click here to do a search by address. You can also search for the legislators via the Texas Tribune’s directory, which contains links to their social media pages. Let them know how excited you are about the opportunity to increase the state funding for the TRS pension fund and be sure to use the #RAISETHEBASE hashtag!

Finally, you can click here and send an email to your elected officials encouraging them this session and asking them to support the TRTA agenda to #RAISETHEBASE for TRS programs and find a way to help improve TRS retiree benefits. 

Below are some of the bills already filed to help TRS retirees:

SubjectCaptionBill #PartyAuthor
COLARelating to a cost-of-living increase applicable to benefits paid by the Teacher Retirement System of Texas.HB 0056DMartinez, Mando
TRS Pension Fund EnhancementRelating to a pension revenue enhancement plan for the Teacher Retirement System of Texas.HB 0183RStephenson
COLARelating to a cost-of-living increase applicable to benefits paid by the Teacher Retirement System of TexasHB 0398DHernandez, Ana
COLARelating to benefits paid by the Teacher Retirement System of Texas.HB 0426DAllen, Alma
TRS-Care & COLARelating to the computation of the standard service retirement annuity for members of the Teacher Retirement System of Texas enrolled in the Texas Public School Employees Group Insurance Program.HB 0593DMunoz, Sergio
TRS-CareRelating to availability of certain health benefit plan options for certain participants in the Texas Public School Employees Group Insurance Program.HB 0594DMunoz, Sergio
COLARelating to a cost-of-living increase applicable to benefits paid by the Teacher Retirement System of Texas.HB 0597DMunoz, Sergio
ESF InvestmentRelating to the authority of the comptroller regarding the management of the general revenue fund and the economic stabilization fund.SB 0069RNelson, Jane
13th CheckRelating to a supplemental payment for retirees of the Teacher Retirement System of Texas and the unfunded actuarial liabilities allowed under that system.SB 0092DMenendez, Jose
COLARelating to a cost-of-living increase applicable to benefits paid by the Teacher Retirement System of Texas.SB 0093DMenendez, Jose
TRS Pension FundRelating to the state contribution to theTeacher Retirement System of Texas.SB 0094DMenendez, Jose
Health InsuranceRelating to health benefit plan coverage in this state.SB 0145DRodriguez, Justin
COLARelating to a cost-of-living increase applicable to benefits paid by the Teacher Retirement System of Texas.SB 0252DFallon, Pat
GPO and WEPUrging Congress to repeal the Government Pension Offset ad the Windfall Elimination Provision of the Social Security Act.SCR 0005RHuffman, Joan
TRS PensionProposing a constitutional amendment to increase the minimum amount that the state may contribute to the Employees Retirement System of Texas and the TeacherRetirement System of Texas.SJR 0004DMenendez, Jose
TRS PensionRelating to the contributions to the Teacher Retirement System of Texas.SB 393RHuffman, Joan

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18 Jan

Former TRTA Executive Director Mike Lehr Passes Away

The Texas Retired Teachers Association’s former Executive Director, Mike Lehr, passed away yesterday. Lehr was 89 years old. He lived in San Angelo, Texas with his wife Francine. 

Instead of flowers, his family has asked that donations be made in his name to the Lehr-Pritchard endowment fund

Lehr’s Visitation Service:

  • Jan. 19, 2019 from 4-6 p.m.
  • Johnson’s Funeral Home 
  • 435 West Beauregard
  • San Angelo, TX 76903

Lehr’s Funeral Service:

  • Jan. 20, 2019 at 3 p.m.
  • Sierra Vista United Methodist Church
  • 4522 College Hills Blvd.
  • San Angelo, TX 76904

Lehr served as TRTA’s Executive Director from 1994 to 2003. Lehr spearheaded the development and lobbying of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) Catch-Up Plan, which provided benefit increases for retired public educators for four consecutive legislative sessions. In 1995, the Texas Legislature approved a $1.6 billion increase for Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) annuitants.

After working for 38 years in public education, Lehr retired and became a TRTA member. Less than a year after starting his position on the Legislative Committee, Lehr became the chairman of the committee, and worked to solve the problem of retired educators receiving poverty-level annuity checks.

Lehr worked with his Legislative Committee and TRS to develop the CPI Catch-Up, which proposed to dramatically increase the annuity payments owed to retired educators. Lehr used his previous work experience with the Austin Independent School District and the Texas Legislature to convince the Speaker of the House, Gib Lewis, and the Lieutenant Governor, Bob Bullock, to support the plan.

In 1994, Lehr was promoted to the position of TRTA Executive Director. La Vonne Rogers, who worked as the officer manager for TRTA during Lehr’s tenure as Executive Director, considers the CPI Catch-Up a miracle.

“People who had retired many years ago were living on practically nothing,” Rogers said. “All of a sudden the fund was fully funded, and we had lots of cooperation from the Legislature, because the people that were working with Mike wanted to see it happen.”

Lehr also was at the forefront of securing the land that TRTA’s state office sits on. The decision to purchase the land proved to be a great investment as it stands less than 300 feet from the Texas Capitol.

Lehr stepped down as TRTA’s Executive Director in 2003, and Tim Lee soon after filled the association’s vital role. Lehr began his tenure as a board member of TRTF in 2001, and he received the E.L. Galyean Service Award, TRTA’s highest honor, in 2002. 

Lehr’s work with the TRTF concluded in 2016. He was fixture among the TRTA family, and his contributions towards the retired educator community were deeply impactful.

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08 Jan

The 2019 Texas Legislative Session Begins

Executive Summary:

The 86thTexas legislative session began today. It marks the start of 140 days of lawmaking that will have a major impact on the lives of all retired educators. At the forefront of retiree-related issues will be the Teacher Retirement System of Texas pension fund’s rate of return assumption change and the budget deficit for TRS-Care.

The Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) is looking forward to working with state lawmakers to help improve and secure the pension fund and TRS-Care. You may read TRTA’s legislative platform here

TRTA is focused on encouraging the Legislature to provide retirees with a benefit increase of some kind. TRTA will be recommending that the Legislature increase its contribution to the TRS fund from 6.8 percent to 8.6 percent. This change in contribution should shore up the funding from TRS’s decision to lower its rate of return assumption. TRTA would like to see a benefit increase for all retirees who retired before Sept. 1, 2018.

Meanwhile, TRTA believes that TRS-Care funding must increase to make up the budget shortfall, and the Legislature should make it a priority to help retirees who were hurt by the changes last session. TRS-Care is projected to have a budget shortfall between $231 million and $412 million. 

We are entering this legislative session with a sense of optimism, and we are excited to start our work with legislators new and old.  We are encouraging our members to get involved too. Among the many involvement opportunities that will arise naturally throughout the session, we look forward to seeing many members at our Day at the Capitol on April 3rd. Day at the Capitol is a great opportunity to rally together and show the Legislature just how strong of an organization TRTA is! We will have more details about how you can join us as the rally day approaches.

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