Primaries are Over, but the Need to Educate is More Important than Ever!

Now that the Texas primaries are behind us, many people think it is time for a summer break and that we can resume political conversations in the fall. However, TRTA members know the value of utilizing the months before the general election to educate candidates about our issues!

The lobby to eliminate defined benefit pension plans is growing every day. The war may seem to be occurring only in states where legislatures have inadequately funded their pension plans; but there are numerous groups here in Texas that want to see your TRS plan changed.

Some of those groups, such as the Texas Public Policy Foundation and the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, are working daily to influence legislators to transition TRS from a defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan. TRTA is opposed to any change to the TRS defined benefit plan design. We will oppose any effort to eliminate these important benefits for future educators.

Remember, even though some may believe that these changes will only impact “future” retirees, a so-called “transition” would impact every TRS member, active or retired. While decision-makers may believe current retiree benefits are not the target, any change to TRS that reduces funding levels puts the fiscal stability of the TRS plan in jeopardy.

Preservation of the TRS defined benefit plan is not TRTA’s only issue. We MUST do all in our power to protect the TRS-Care health insurance program. Funding for TRS-Care was reduced last session.

The good news is that premium levels will not increase during the current biennium. This marked the 4th session in a row that TRTA was able to keep premiums from increasing! TRTA has worked with the Legislature to ensure premium costs stayed the same as a means of helping retirees who have not had a pension increase since 2001.

Now, TRS-Care is running out of reserve dollars to maintain benefits and premium costs. The Legislature was informed last session that the “temporary” cuts to TRS-Care would cause immediate funding challenges. TRS officials are working on many proposals to preserve benefits for TRS-Care participants.

Today, TRTA will attend a meeting of the TRS-Care Advisory Council. This group is chaired by long-time TRTA member and friend, Sue Passmore. TRTA will review these proposals and send you an update after the meeting.

The TRS Board of Trustees will meet next week to review proposals discussed at today’s hearing. We will address the TRS Board about these proposals. TRTA will not support any premium increases or benefit reductions for TRS-Care participants. We are ready to work with TRS on any plan that can reduce costs and maintain this vital health insurance benefit. The TRS Board, however, can only do so much. The Texas Legislature must be ready to fund this health care program appropriately.

TRTA’s Message to Candidates for Office

This summer, we know you will be engaged with your legislators and those seeking election in the fall. As you meet with your leaders, please share these TRTA Legislative Priorities.

  1. Preserve the TRS-Care health insurance program without increasing premiums or making drastic benefit reductions for plan participants. Provide any supplemental budget appropriations that are needed to keep this program funded and intact.
  2. Defend the TRS Defined Benefit Pension Plan—Attacks levied against public pension plans are growing to a fever pitch, but no other plan design can provide the same level of benefit at a lower cost to the participant or the taxpayer.
  3. Pension Increase—TRS retirees have had no permanent increase in their pension benefits since 2001! Over the past 12 years, the costs of goods and services have increased dramatically. The price of gasoline alone has risen 247%! Retirees need an increase in their benefits or should receive some form of supplemental payment.
  4. Pension Funding—TRS is a well-funded, well-managed pension trust fund. The state’s contribution level was cut last session. The Texas Legislature must restore and increase funding to keep this plan strong.
  5. Allow direct election of TRS Trustees—TRTA is calling on the Legislature and Governor to pass legislation that allows for member trustees on the TRS Board to be elected directly by their constituent representatives. While there are elections for these positions today, the Governor still has final choice of the top three vote-getters in a member election. Why should the Governor have final appointment of members to the TRS Board who are duly elected by their member representatives?

These are the top five legislative priorities identified by TRTA members. TRTA works on MANY other issues during the legislative session. TRTA is an expert on pension policy and our members are very involved in the legislative and political process. While TRTA does not endorse candidates, our members VOTE in high percentages in all elections. We watch, listen, talk, educate and vote!

If you want to know more about the issues listed above, or want to help protect and improve benefits for public education retirees, please contact TRTA at 1.800.880.1650.

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