- Yes, this is TRTA’s third update of the day!
- This is a very busy week in the Texas Legislature for TRTA and TRS-related issues!
- Earlier today, Senate State Affairs passed a resolution urging Congress to repeal the GPO and WEP
- Today, the full Senate body also passed the TRS actuarial soundness bill, SB 12
- See Tim Lee’s statement about SB 12 in the body of this update!
- Tomorrow (March 26) at 8:00 a.m., Pensions, Investments and Financial Services hears House Bill 9 (a link to the live webcast will be available online tomorrow morning from this link)
- Don’t forget to invite your legislators to TRTA Day at the Capitol on April 3!
Today, March 25, the Texas Senate voted on SB 12, the bill filed by Senator Joan Huffman that would make the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) pension fund actuarially sound and provide retirees with a one-time supplemental payment.
Huffman’s bill proposes changes that would occur over several years, eventually increasing the state contribution from the current 6.8 percent to 8.25 percent by fiscal year 2024. This would incur an ongoing cost, but it would be shared among all contributors. The bill also proposes that the school district contribution rise from 1.5 percent to 2 percent by 2025 and the active employee contribution from 7.7 percent to 8.25 percent by 2024. At present, the bill’s proposed supplemental payment for retirees would be capped at $500.
When laying out the bill, Senator Huffman acknowledged that the Texas House is offering a similar bill, HB 9, that differs in a few ways, adding “but I believe the intent of both chambers is to pass a long-term, cost-efficient plan that fits within the confines of the state budget and works towards eliminating the unfunded liability.”
Senator Jose Menendez commented on the bill, saying “retirees have not received an increase in benefits since 2013.” Menendez then asked bill author Huffman “with the increase in the allocations to the fund . . . if we put that in the Constitution…would that not allow then if we get approved by the voters to provide for a cost-of-living adjustment?” Huffman responded that funding a COLA can cost up to $6 billion. “For every one percent of COLAS for retirees, you need $1 billion to pay for it.”
Menendez said his concern is that retirees have gone so long without any increase, but their insurance rates keep rising, expressing his hope that more can be done for retirees because “they have been waiting patiently for so long.”
Huffman said HB 9 in the House does provide for a larger supplemental payment and said she will be advocating for the retired teachers and working within the parameters of what the budget allows. Menendez indicated he would like to be part of the conversation as the budget continues to be negotiated between the Senate and House.
Senator Jane Nelson asked Huffman what would happen if the Legislature did nothing to address the pension fund, which presently has a funding period of 87 years. Huffman responded that “the fund would eventually run out of money and retirees would not receive their pensions.”
Huffman also added that TRS is “in the forever business . . . our investments are long-term . . .we have to look long-term how are we going to protect these individuals who choose that profession,” adding that educators “want some certainty” about their retirement benefits.
Senator Nelson added that the Senate is “committed to using money out of our Economic Stabilization Fund (ESF),” and that using these funds allows the Legislature to come up with a more permanent funding solution by bringing the pension fund to actuarial soundness immediately.
Huffman concurred adding that “we get to 29 years and we pay off totally by 2049,” meaning that passing the bill reduces the TRS pension fund’s funding period from 87 years to 29 years immediately and that all of the fund’s unfunded liability will be paid off by 2049. As our members may know, by state law, the Legislature cannot approve a cost-of-living increase for retirees unless the system can pay off its liabilities within 31 years or less.
Senator Nelson added that legislators “care about our retired teachers, we hear them, we get why they’re worried.”
SB 12 passed unanimously out of the Senate with a vote of 31 ayes and zero nays and will now be sent to the Texas House of Representatives for consideration.
More to Come on Making TRS Actuarially Sound
TRTA knows Senator Huffman has been working with Representative Greg Bonnen (R – League City) in the Texas House to introduce legislation that would shore up the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) pension fund and provide some kind of benefit increase to retirees.
Bonnen’s bill, HB 9, also proposes to make the TRS pension fund actuarially sound and provide a supplemental payment to retired educators. HB 9 is on the schedule tomorrow, March 26, at 8:00 a.m. for the House Pensions, Investments, and Financial Services Committee. A live webcast of the meeting will be available from this link tomorrow morning.
As many TRTA members know, legislation can be fluid during a legislative session, undergoing multiple versions before a final bill is passed. At the moment, SB 12 and HB 9 differ on a few elements, including the amount of the proposed one-time supplemental payment for retirees. However, both bills are working toward the vital and necessary step to make the pension fund sound enough to provide a much-needed benefit increase for retirees.
TRTA is committed to working through this process with both the Senate and House. The House version of pension funding reform puts more of that cost burden on the state and offers a larger supplemental payment to TRS retirees.
Statement from TRTA Executive Director Tim Lee
TRTA is very pleased to see the Texas Senate take action on a funding plan that ensures the long-term solvency of the TRS pension fund. SB 12 would immediately improve the TRS pension fund’s long-term sustainability by increasing funding to the system. It would also provide retirees some financial help.
TRS retirees really need a permanent boost in their pension benefits, but any permanent cost-of-living increase is only possible if the Legislature passes a comprehensive funding plan for TRS. The vote in the Senate today and the work being done in the Legislature this session proves that our state is determined to ensure retirement security for our retired and active school employees.
TRTA supports raising the base funding for both the TRS pension plan the and TRS-Care health insurance program. TRTA also supports helping TRS retirees with a meaningful benefit increase this session.
The work being done this session must help our current retirees, as their health care premiums and other costs are going up. A lack of pension increases means many retirees can barely make ends meet. Texas can and should do more to help our retired school employees!
TRTA supports both SB 12 and HB 9 and is actively working with elected officials to help all TRS members.
We will continue to keep you updated on this very busy week of legislative activity. All of the activity we are seeing is very positive and is moving your pension fund in a direction that provides long-term stability for all current and future TRS retirees.
Thank you for your membership to TRTA. We are fighting ardently for your benefits every day at the Capitol. If you are not yet a TRTA member, please join here.