TRTA Testifies on Issues that Matter to You

The Senate State Affairs Committee is charged with oversight of the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS).  Yesterday the committee held a hearing on the status of the pension and health insurance trust funds.

Senator Robert Duncan, Chairman of the Senate State Affairs Committee, was unable to attend the hearing (due to a professional obligation with his law practice).  Senator Bob Deuell, committee Vice-Chair, led the meeting and a good discussion about helping public education retirees that have not had a pension increase in 10 years.  Senator Deuell asked many questions about ways the Legislature and TRS may be able to structure an increase for retirees even in this difficult budget session. Even as some legislators may run away from the idea of helping retirees in these difficult budget times, Senator Deuell is to be commended for making this a major topic of discussion in yesterday’s hearing.

Tim Lee, TRTA Executive Director, testified before the committee on numerous issues impacting public education retirees and TRS funds.  Here are just a few of the points made during the testimony:

  • Texas public education retirees have not had an increase in 10 years and have lost approximately 30 percent of their buying power;
  • Retirees have been told that their pensions cannot be increased because of a state law that prohibits benefit increases when the pension fund is not actuarially sound;
  • That same law also suggests that the state may not be able to take other action during a legislative session that may “worsen” the condition of the fund;
  • An example of such action may include reducing the state contribution to the pension trust fund, as such action would further worsen the actuarial condition of the fund;
  • Many TRTA members believe the Legislature is not acting in good faith when denying a benefit increase to retirees because of how it may worsen the condition of the fund, while the Legislature is quick to think of lowering the state’s contribution even though it also will worsen the condition of the fund;
  • Lowering state funding to the pension fund further delays providing retirees with a real cost of living raise;
  • The Legislature must act quickly to shore up funding for TRS and provide retirees with a real cost of living increase;
  • TRTA requested the Senate State Affairs Committee and all the members of the Texas Senate fully fund the TRS appropriations request (Ronnie Jung, TRS Director, suggested that not funding the TRS-Care budget request may increase health care premiums this coming biennium);
  • TRTA asked that the Legislature keep TRS whole for its appropriations for the current biennium;
  • This refers to the budget suggestions made by some elected officials to not fully fund the 6.644 percent state contribution to TRS;
  • As you recall, the Legislature authorized a $500 supplemental payment that was denied by the Attorney General.  That money was supposed to be deposited into the pension fund, but some state officials do not want to pay the higher TRS contribution for the first four months of fiscal year 2011 (September through December 2010); and
  • TRTA requested that the Teacher Retirement System not be ordered to return over $20 million to the state due to this appropriations dispute.

After the meeting, TRTA took time to talk to the committee attendees about other critical components of the TRTA legislative agenda.  Items such as the TRS Executive Director search, TRS investment policy and procedure, adding another annuitant to the TRS Board, and more were all discussed.

TRTA is your voice in the Texas Legislature!  This will be a hard session, and TRTA is preparing for a strong defense of the pension and health care trust funds.  We are also ready to fight for you to get a much needed pension increase and for preventing your health care costs from increasing.  We must be vigilant; we must be active and make our issues known.  TRTA is not giving up on any idea to help retirees this session and we know that you will be ready to stand with us during these challenging times.

One former legislator has called TRTA the most active and organized lobby in Texas.  Let’s be ready to make sure everyone remembers why!  Thank you for your membership and continued support.