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.