Hello and Happy New Year to all the TRTA Inside Line subscribers. TRTA has had a great year mobilizing our membership and working with all our partner associations to prepare for a difficult legislative session. I will speak on that issue more in just a minute.

Let me begin this message by saying “thank you.” Your willingness to receive these emails is greatly appreciated. We have thousands of Inside Line subscribers from varied backgrounds and walks of life. Many of the Inside Line subscribers are, of course TRS retirees and members of the Texas Retired Teachers Association. We also have many subscribers who are active school employees, legislators, legislative staff, state agency officials, members of the media, and those who are generally interested in pension news and information.

Whichever category you find yourself, please know how grateful we are to have you as an Inside Line email subscriber.

Many TRTA members have received, or are receiving, their latest issue of the association news bulletin, The Voice. This current issue provides the most recent information on how TRTA has prepared and is now ready to engage in the upcoming legislative session. It also has key talking points to share with your legislators as they return to Austin, as well as a fact page you can detach from the bulletin and then mail to your legislator. We hope that you find this information useful and are able to send the fact page with a short note to your legislator explaining your needs and expectations for the coming legislative session.

TRTA has worked diligently over the last 8-months raising the alarm to all TRS members, retired and active, about those who want to drastically change your TRS pension trust fund. We know there is a movement working hard in Texas to eliminate defined benefit plans for public education employees. Many times, the people behind these proposed changes say that existing TRS retirees will not be impacted in any way. We have exposed this untruth for what it is and are ready to oppose any proposal that drastically changes or eliminates the TRS defined benefit plan.

Simply as a point of encouragement to our current TRTA retiree members and as an expression of gratitude to those who provided us the opportunity, I wanted to let you know that a large majority of the meetings that TRTA leaders participated in over the past 8-months have been with active school employees! TRTA is grateful to help educate our working school employees on the war that is being waged against their pension benefits. It will take all of us working together to remain informed, to be active, and to protect and improve this vital piece of our retirement security.

While there has been much said about the war against the TRS retirement benefit program, TRTA has also been working equally hard on protecting the TRS-Care health insurance program. This is the health insurance program that many TRS retirees are participants and has served our state TRS retirees well for over 25-years.

The program is simply running out of money and TRTA is prepared to work this entire session on restoring cuts made to the program last legislative session, and find any additional revenue that may be needed to keep the program strong and protect retiree premiums.

As many of you know, TRS plan administrators have already adopted changes to the plan that include an introduction of a new Medicare Advantage plan, as well as a new Medicare D prescription drug benefit. While TRS officials have worked very hard to ensure as little disruption in the level of care and service our retirees now enjoy, these changes have been introduced as cost savings measures and member participation in these new options is said to be vital to the continuation and financial security of TRS-Care.

Legislators need to know that TRS retirees in the TRS-Care plan are not getting a “free ride” and pay significant premiums, co-pays, out-of-pocket expenses, meet various deductibles, and many times pay Medicare costs on top of the TRS-Care expenses. This plan must be adequately funded and now is the time to see serious legislative action to protect the vital health care plan now and in the future.

TRTA members who have been retired for a number of years know that there has not been a permanent pension increase since 2001. TRTA championed and helped pass a supplemental payment for TRS retirees in 2007 (paid in 2008). But that benefit came five years ago. The Texas Legislature MUST consider providing some form of benefit increase for TRS retirees. Some in the legislature may be unwilling to pass legislation providing a benefit increase to retirees so long as the fund is not actuarially sound. If this is the case, TRTA calls on the legislature to do what it must to help make the fund actuarially sound and provide retirees a much needed pension increase.

These are the major issues we will all be working on in the coming session. While we will be putting every effort into these state legislative issues, please know that we have not forgotten our national legislative efforts to protect your retirement security. We know that many of you are impacted by the Social Security provisions know as the Government Pension Offset and the Windfall Elimination Provision. TRTA has a strong presence working on these issues on the national level, as well. TRTA is also defending the TRS fund from issues such as mandatory Social Security. Our national legislative efforts also include working with partner organizations to protect Medicare funding and more.

TRTA had a very productive 2012. It is impossible to say too much about how great our TRTA local unit leaders and district representatives partnered together to make this a very successful year for TRTA. Without our local unit network, TRTA would not be nearly as influential as it is today. If you are not yet a member of one of our active and growing local units, please consider joining one today.

Again, thank you for being a member of TRTA and a subscriber to this email news update service. We have a busy 2013 planned with a challenging legislative session ahead of us. TRTA has always been the most successful when our members had good information and worked as active participants in our legislative initiatives. We are ready for the coming challenges and we know that you are too.

Thanks, and Happy New Year!

Tim Lee