The Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) is as busy as ever, and already planning for the 85th Texas Legislative Session. During the past week and through August 14, TRTA is hosting its biannual standing committee meetings.

The Legislative Committee features 20 members.
The Legislative Committee features 21 members.
View the list here.

These meetings include important groups such as the Legislative Committee, which is responsible for meeting with legislators and forming an action plan for the 2017 Texas Legislative Session. The Legislative Committee features 20 members, one representing each TRTA district, and a Chairman.

The 21 members volunteer a great deal of their time to meeting with 150 Representatives and 31 Senators across the state, and their lobbying doesn’t just begin and end during a legislative session. A significant portion of TRTA’s success is tied to communicating with legislators during the interim, the time in between regular legislative sessions.

During the Legislative Committee’s July 27-28 meeting, the team recapped the events of the 84th Legislative Session, and began planning strategies to have an even more successful campaign in 2017. Three primary points of focus during the meetings were the TRS-Care crisis, the protection of defined benefit plans and the need for a cost-of-living adjustment for all TRS retirees.

Addressing TRS-Care During the Interim

Bill Barnes is the chairman of the Legislative Committee.
Bill Barnes is the Chairman of the Legislative Committee.

The TRS-Care crisis is still relevant even though TRTA was able to secure $768 million towards the health care program last session. More than 240,000 retired educators rely upon the health care program provided by the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS). The funding provided by the Texas Legislature will keep TRS-Care benefits and premiums stable for the next two years, but TRTA will need to ask the Legislature for upwards of $1 billion in 2017 to keep the program solvent.

The crux of this issue is based on the funding disparity between active teacher payroll, which is a primary source of income for TRS-Care, and rising healthcare costs, including skyrocketing prescription drug prices. Since active teacher salary is not related to medical expenses and does not increase at the same rate, TRS-Care is in need of a fundamental change in its funding structure.

The Legislative Committee will be busy this year and next educating Senators and Representatives about this important issue, and speaking with a study group formed by the Texas Legislature as a result of the passage of Senate Bill 1940. The members of the group, which is charged with studying ways to improve and sustain TRS-Care, have not yet been named. When that does occur, you can expect an important Inside Lineupdate in your inbox, so keep your eyes peeled!

Fighting For A Cost-of-Living Adjustment

Additionally, the Legislative Committee spoke extensively about the need to provide a cost-of-living increase to TRS annuitants who did not receive one in 2013, and how to best protect defined benefit plans. The Texas Legislature missed an opportunity to provide a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) during the 84th Legislative Session, and the Legislative Committee will actively pursue a COLA for retirees in 2017.

Protecting Your Defined Benefit Plan

Rueben Saenz is District 1's committee member.
Ruben Saenz is District 1’s committee member.

TRS was recently attacked by the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF). In an unwarranted attack, James Quintero stated that defined benefit plans “run contrary to sound budgeting principles that stipulate that taxpayer-funded programs should be predictable, viable and not reliant upon gimmicks or market conditions.” While his article was met with little fanfare, these types of attacks can create doubt in the minds of legislators about the viability of our pension plan.

TRTA responded with force in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. The Legislative Committee is well aware of the dangers and pitfalls associated with groups like TPPF who want to strip you of your hard-earned benefits, and our team will work hard to protect your retirement security.

The Importance of Voting and How You Can Help

The Legislative Committee also discussed the importance of encouraging voter turnout during primary elections. Primary elections are preliminary elections, which determine the field of candidates eligible to be elected. With increased voter turnout at these elections, TRTA can increase its ability to influence policymakers. Texas primary elections begin in March 2016.

The best way to help the Legislative Committee achieve its goal of protecting your benefits is to stay informed. If you haven’t already, find out when your first fall local unit meeting is being held. Contact your local unit president, and let them know that you are excited about participating in your local meetings. Also, be sure to stay connected with TRTA via Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

The next two years could very well determine the future of TRS-Care and a possible COLA, and your involvement is paramount to TRTA’s success. Thank you for your membership, and if you have a friend or family member who is a retired educator and is not yet a member of TRTA, please encourage them to join us by using our new Join Now website!