The Texas Retired Teachers Association’s Legislative Committee held meetings throughout July 18-19 to discuss the 2017 Texas Legislature. The committee is comprised of 21 members from the various TRTA districts.
It is the responsibility of the state Legislative Committee to communicate with their local unit counterparts to ensure a cohesive, well-organized lobbying effort throughout the interim and during the legislative session.
The Legislative Committee from left to right:
Billy Jack Rankin, Roger Huber, Dannie Hefner, Rueben Saenz, Terry Allen, Dr. James Warner,
Kenneth Hanson, Gayle Watkins, Charles Starcke. (Not pictured: Wayne Byrd)
Dr. Mary Widmier, Tonna Duke, Dr. Carole Ann Buchanan.
Many of the committee discussions centered on the issue of TRS-Care. TRS-Care is the health care program provided to nearly 250,000 retired educators by the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS). The preservation of TRS-Care is paramount to the livelihoods of retired educators, and its funding system is in need of an overhaul.
During the 84th legislative session, TRS-Care required $768 million to remain solvent for the biennium. For 2017, that number could jump to $1.6 billion. Even as the funding for TRS-Care has come, the health care program has experienced significant changes to its benefits structure.
The TRTA legislative committee has made it a priority to communicate with legislators both before and during session about the best solutions to preserve the program, and to provide key resources to help the legislators make the best decisions.
The committee meeting also featured presentations from TRTA’s Pensions Consultant, Ronnie Jung, and TRTA’s Legislative Consultant, Vicki Truitt. Truitt’s presentation touched on the importance of the November elections and the preservation of the TRS Defined Benefit plan.
Josh McGee, the Vice-President of the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, is serving as the Chairman of the Pension Review Board. McGee is an out-spoken advocate for replacing defined benefit plans, such as the one provided by TRS.
Meanwhile, Jung detailed history of TRS-Care and how the health care program’s current operating budget is not in line with rising health care costs. Since the Legislature first created TRS-Care, the program has received funding from a pay-as-you-go strategy. Jung explained that the only way to ensure TRS-Care’s future is for the Texas Legislature to pre-fund the program.
While pre-funding TRS-Care is the most initially expensive option for the Legislature to consider, its long-term benefits would be enormous, as it would provide safety and security for retired educators’ health benefits. According to TRS estimates, the Legislature would need to invest $2.7 billion into TRS-Care during the 2018-19 biennium and $2.8 billion during the 2020-21 biennium to pre-fund TRS Care.
Additionally, the committee focused on federal lobbying to reform the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and Government Pension Offset (GPO). Recently, H.R. 711, a bill designed to reform the WEP and put money back into retirees’ pockets, suffered a major setback. TRTA and the legislative committee are determined to get the bill back on track and help the retirees who have been unfairly penalized since 1983.
TRTA’s Legislative Committee is committed to providing consistent, clear communication with Texas legislators. You can find more information about the committee here. You can read the committee’s resource guide here and the training guide here.