TRTA Action Alert: Email Campaign Underway… Please Click here to send your legislator an email asking them to support the Ratliff and Keffer amendments!

Texas House Ready to Debate Budget

TRTA Members Focus on Our Needs

The Texas House of Representatives will debate their version of the Texas budget this week. The Senate voted out their version of the budget the same day that TRTA hosted its Day at the Capitol two weeks ago. The House has their chance to make TRS a higher priority, and we must get all our members active in this process!

TRTA members have been working very hard for more than a year in preparation for this session.  Now, we need to continue to make legislators aware of our needs. The good news is that your work is paying off! So far, we have seen our supporters in the Texas Legislature restore all the cuts that were made to the TRS fund and TRS-Care last session! This is a direct response to your involvement and our collective efforts through TRTA! Thank you.

In addition to the restoration of the cuts, both the House and Senate are putting more money towards the pension trust fund.

As you may know, Representative Jim Keffer filed HB 1383 to increase funding for the TRS pension fund to 6.9% in FY 2014 and 7.4% in FY 2015. While neither the Senate nor the House version of the budget supports this level of funding, Chairman Keffer is pushing an amendment to do so in tomorrow’s budget debate. His amendment directs funding for his legislation to Article 11. This section of the budget is often referred to as the “wish list” article, but it keeps the funding discussion alive and is a very important procedural component in the Texas legislative process.

TRTA is also supporting an amendment by Representative Bennett Ratliff. This amendment requires that any TRS pension fund “settle up” dollars that may be owed back to the state instead go to the TRS-Care fund. This method of “settle up” was used in the previous biennium, placing $98 million into the TRS-Care fund.

TRTA members can support Chairman Keffer and Representative Ratliff by clicking here to send an email asking your legislators for their votes on these two important amendments.
TRS-Care in the News

TRTA members should know about a discussion taking place in the Texas House over several amendments that have been filed to redirect state budget dollars from numerous programs or agencies to the TRS-Care plan.

While TRTA believes that this is a genuine attempt to help find additional funding for the TRS-Care program, or at least increase awareness of TRS-Care funding challenges, there are a few issues that cause concern.

It is important to note that these amendments are budget redirections, not the allocation of new resources to TRS-Care. This means that one agency or program will be reduced or completely eliminated, and their funding would be used for something else.

TRTA participated in every opportunity of the Texas House budgeting process. We know that every program has a constituency, and any change in the proposed budget results in a new or different policy decision by the Legislature.

TRTA also knows that we have worked hard to get accomplished our part of the budget for TRS-Care, and that these efforts are projected to keep the plan, its benefit structure, and the premiums completely intact for the rest of this year and the next two years.

Further, TRS projects the plan will still have a $100 million surplus at the end of the coming fiscal year. These are very positive results for the hard work being done by TRTA members.

We support the efforts of our long-time friends House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts and House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education Chairman John Otto, who have been instrumental in working with all the House Appropriations committee members to protect your TRS-Care program. They know the issues we face in the future, which are substantial. We know that all House members will be ready to work with us in the future to deal with the TRS-Care challenges coming in the nextbiennium.

Outside Groups

It is strange that some other outside organizations have taken special note of this amendment discussion.

One organization, that does not have a track record of supporting your TRS defined benefit plan, expressed on their web site that “several GOP freshmen have pre-filed amendments seeking to cut wasteful government spending in favor of addressing the state’s major unfunded teacher pension liability. How the rest of the GOP caucus votes will be telling.”

The organization further states that “while unfunded pension liabilities are a serious problem for state and local governments that require systematic reforms – the state cannot ignore the growing liabilities of TRS – the fifth largest public pension in the U.S. as of last September. Cutting wasteful government in order to fulfill the state’s current obligation is responsible budgeting.”

We agree that the state should not ignore TRS! The fact is that for 13 out of the last 18 years the Texas Legislature has underfunded TRS. This underfunding has saved the state money, but has cost the pension fund over $8 billion in funding.

We are not sure why this particular organization has not helped TRTA champion adequate state funding for the TRS pension system. As we mentioned, they do not have a track record of supporting your TRS defined benefit or TRS-Care health insurance program.

We are also puzzled by what this organization means when they talk about “systematic” reforms. Without any additional information, we can only guess that they are suggesting the elimination of the defined benefit pension system and the implementation of a defined contribution system. As TRTA members already know, the defined contribution system brings with it numerous funding problems and reduces retirement security for all TRS retirees—many of whom do not participate in Social Security.

It is also important to point out that the filed amendments are redirecting state resources to TRS-Care, not the TRS pension plan. This outside organization is messaging that these amendments are going to offset the “growing liabilities of the TRS.”

The final issue is this: “a list of amendments, including ones redirecting funding to TRS obligations, subject to scoring on the Fiscal Responsibility Index will be posted by Wednesday morning.”

TRTA members, please see this statement and think about what your elected officials are being asked to do. Are they being asked by this organization to support budget strategies to improve your pension system that protect your defined benefit plan? Is their goal to help you get a much needed increase? Are they acting as champions for your interests in the same way that TRTA is trying to make a positive difference for you? Are they willing to stand up and tell us if they fully support a defined benefit plan for all current and future TRS retirees, and that they will do whatever it takes to get the system actuarially sound? Will they reject any organization that is promoting the passage of “systematic” changes to your retirement fund?

Yes, there are many other organizations that want to keep “score” on legislator votes, and that’s their prerogative; but TRTA is interested in an organization’s track record as much as their web site statements.

Another outside group, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, that is on record supporting legislation for the elimination of the TRS defined benefit pension plan, is now supporting this budget redirection for TRS-Care. Again, this strategy seems very dubious to TRTA. An organization with clearly different goals on the values our TRTA members hold most dear are now circulating a flier that states, among other things, “Fundamental reforms are needed to stabilize the program, but we should take steps today to rein in spending on less essential functions of government and prioritize the health care of our teachers who have done so much for the school children of Texas.”

Again, TRTA questions what the TPPF means by “fundamental reforms” for the TRS-Care health insurance program. If it is anything like their “fundamental reforms” of the TRS pension fund, current and future retirees would be much worse off.

TRTA maintains that the Legislature is now debating its budget priorities for the coming biennium. TRTA members can be assured that the issues important to you are a much higher priority this session. Again, this is the result of your hard work and dedication. Thank you.

What is important to know right now is that TRTA is in no way finished working with the Texas Legislature to improve your pension fund, protect your health care, and do our best to get you a much needed pension increase.

As TRTA members can attest, your organization has a 60-year track record of working in the legislative process to protect and improve TRS benefits for all public education retirees. No other organization in Texas has a mission that is exclusively focused on TRS benefit protection. Being your voice in the Texas Legislature is our daily priority; your retirement security, the future of the TRS defined benefit, and the preservation of TRS-Care are our core organizational values.

Can the same be said for these other organizations that are now taking a position on TRS-Care for these budget redirections?

TRTA Supported Amendments

TRTA was directly involved with the two amendments we are asking our members to support. That’s what our members need to know and ask their legislators to support. Click here to send your legislator an email asking them to support the Ratliff and Keffer amendments!

If the Texas Legislature finds additional ways to help TRS-Care or the TRS pension fund, we certainly appreciate their work.

Concluding Comments

TRTA members, we need your help! The budget discussion is always one of the biggest moments in the Texas Legislature. Please send your email today!

If you cannot email your legislator, please feel free to contact them by using our toll-free TRTA Legislator Hotline! That number is 1.888.674.3788.

As always, we thank you for your membership! We are making strong progress this session. Let’s remain united, active, and involved. If you are not a member and want to join, please contact our office at 1.800.880.1650. TRTA dues cost $25 per year.