“I’m just chock-full of good news today,” joked Teacher Retirement System (TRS) Executive Director Brian Guthrie after eliciting several prolonged sighs from members of the TRS-Care Joint Committee.
The TRS-Care Joint Committee is a sub-committee of the Texas Legislature charged with studying the TRS-Care health insurance program. The committee is comprised of three Senators and three Representatives, who heard testimony for three hours concerning TRS-Care’s financial instability.
The health care program will face a funding shortfall of $1.6 billion by the start of the 2018-19 fiscal year according to Guthrie. Guthrie and the legislators reviewed options to solve this funding crisis. The funding shortfall has been caused by a discrepancy between the amount of money being put into the program, which is tied to active teacher payroll, and rising health care costs.
TRTA members testified about the importance
of TRS-Care to the committee.
More than 200 members of the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) were present during the meeting, which was standing room only and required an overflow room to be provided.
As TRTA members rallied before the meeting, four legislators came to thank the educators for their public service. Representatives Justin Rodriguez (D-San Antonio), Dan Flynn (R-Canton), Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) and Phil Stephenson (R-Wharton) all came to greet the TRTA gathering, and their kind, inspirational words provided an uplifting moment during a day full of long sighs and headshakes.
During the meeting, each legislator was divided on how to approach the conversation of solving the TRS-Care crisis. Sen. Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls) began the meeting by providing a statement of determination, but halfway through conceded that solving the crisis would require everyone to contribute.
Stephenson however was adamant that retirees should not have to have any cost increases or benefit reductions.
“It should be the burden of the actives and the state,” Stephenson said.
Tim Lee, TRTA’s Executive Director, was the first to provide public testimony. Lee outlined the issues surrounding the program, including the prolonged issue of the program being a “pay-as-you-go strategy.” This current strategy required the state to provide $768 million to keep the program solvent through the current biennium. Though Guthrie would later go on to state that this figure might be short, as the program is only projected to have $24 million in it by Aug. 2017.
“There is no silver bullet or one thing that we can blame,” said Lee. “The bottom line is this: we need more revenue to keep this program solvent.”
Lee noted that the current pay-as-you-go method has almost been as expensive as a pre-funded method. Pre-funding TRS-Care is the best option for its long-term solvency, and it is the method that would be most fair to TRTA members. However, pre-funding is the most expensive option for the Legislature, as it would cost the state a total of $2.7 billion during the 2018-19 biennium and $2.8 billion during the 2020-21 biennium.
Along with TRTA, several other associations testified to the committee. Among those testifying were the Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA), the Association of Texas Professional Educators (ATPE), the Texas American Federation of Teachers (Texas AFT), the Texas State Teachers Association (TSTA) and the Texas Classroom Teachers Association (TCTA). Many associations stated that pre-funding the plan was the best solution.
Guthrie ended his testimony by providing his take on the future of TRS-Care.
“Whatever you decide on is putting a Band-Aid on a fundamentally flawed system,” said Guthrie. “Come up with a new model of providing health care.”
Thank you for your membership to TRTA. We will continue to follow the TRS-Care Joint Committee’s progress, and provide you many more opportunities to get involved. We truly appreciate the members who were able to make it to the rally and the legislators who attended the rally.