Update on Legislative Actions March 8, 2013

TRS Support Grows in Both Chambers

TRTA Members are Making a Difference

The rush was on in the last few hours before the legislative bill-filing deadline today! We will continue to look through all of these filed bills to let you know if there are any attempts to eliminate your defined benefit plan through the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS).

The good news is that support for the TRS retirement system has grown stronger over the last year. We are so pleased to hear our long-time legislative leaders, as well as many of the newer legislative members, expressing their support for the TRS defined benefit plan. TRTA members and our friends in the active school community have formed a tremendous wall of defense around this vital system, and your steadfast support is making a major difference. The educational effort lead by TRTA has made a BIG impression on legislative members. We need to keep up this important work. You have done a great job! We are better off today than we would have been without you and your efforts. Thank you!

Speaking of being better off, the good news continues for increased funding to TRS! This time two years ago, the Texas Legislature was already developing a budget that reduced funding for both the TRS trust fund and our TRS-Care health insurance program. The hits on those programs were very painful, but there is better news developing this session.

The Texas Senate Finance Committee this week adopted their budget recommendations for the TRS pension fund and TRS-Care. All cuts made to TRS last session have been restored in this proposed budget scenario! In addition, the Senate adopted a budget strategy increasing funding for the TRS pension trust fund by more than $103.4 million! The Senate workgroup was lead by long-time TRS supporter Senator Robert Duncan. Other members include Senators John Whitmire and Judith Zaffarini.

The Senate contribution level is slightly lower and uses a different funding pattern than the version adopted in the Texas House earlier this week. The Senate version has a state contribution to TRS in FY 2014 at 6.4% and FY 2015 at 6.7%.

The House version raised TRS pension funding to 6.6% in both years of the coming biennium.

TRTA is very pleased to see that TRS is receiving a higher funding priority in the Texas budget.

These efforts, though, cannot stop! The higher level of funding is a good step in the right direction, but more is needed to make the pension trust fund actuarially sound! TRTA is pursuing a bold legislative agenda to get the pension fund actuarially sound as quickly as possible, with our real desire to see this happen in the coming biennium.

Update on HB 1383

Pushing that agenda is Representative Jim Keffer, who filed legislation (HB 1383) to raise the TRS contribution to 6.9% in FY 2014 and 7.4% in FY 2015. This legislation has picked up many additional co-sponsors thanks to the hard work of our TRTA members. Click here to see an updated list of bill sponsors.

TRTA is very engaged in this effort. We know that making the system sound is the best way to provide a much needed pension increase for all TRS retirees. It is also the best defense against market fluctuations or attacks by interest groups that want to turn TRS into a privatized 401(k)-style retirement system.

Many of these pension detractors fail to ever mention that our TRS members do not participate in Social Security. Not supporting a strong retirement system for our retired and active school employees is a disastrous policy position, and one that would have terrible repercussions for all Texans.

TRTA will continue to push HB 1383 and present a strong case to all elected officials that more must be done to help the TRS pension fund.

HB 103/SB 643

As you are aware, TRTA is trying to help retirees get a much needed benefit increase. We are pushing strategies to help get you a permanent pension increase. We also have many friends in the Texas Legislature that have filed other bills to help TRS retirees.

Two of those friends are Representative Larry Gonzales and Senator Robert Deuell. They have filed legislation to provide retirees with a supplemental payment if the fund meets certain conditions. This legislation could provide some financial relief to hundreds of thousands of TRS retirees, even if the fund is not actuarially sound. The legislation works to accomplish two goals: protect the fund’s actuarial condition by ensuring it meets its investment return assumptions and does not fall below an 80% funded status; and provide retirees with some immediate relief.

We know our members need a raise, and we work every day to help make that happen as quickly as possible. HB 103 and SB 643 are additional methods of helping retirees that are very practical, and can have an immediate positive impact if passed.

Please call your legislators and ask them to support HB 103 and SB 643. The TRTA Call Your Legislator Hotline number is 1.888.674.3788.

Next week, TRTA will provide several new email advocacy campaigns to alert our legislators about the issues most important to you. The goal next week is to generate as much awareness as possible about our upcoming and very important TRTA Day at the Capitol, set for March 20.

If you have not yet made plans to come to Austin, please consider doing so today. We have heard from all over the state that our members are energized and coming by the busloads! We expect this to be the biggest TRTA rally ever!

Much is being accomplished, but we must press on to achieve the goal of higher funding levels for the TRS pension fund and TRS-Care. Let’s continue to educate our legislators, defend our retirement system and let every legislator in Austin know that TRTA members are the most active, effective grassroots advocates in the state!

Thank you for being a member and standing strong with TRTA. If you are not a member and want to join, please contact our office at 1.800.880.1650. TRTA membership continues to grow well above 77,900! We still need you! Now is the time to get involved.

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