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Editorial: Fellow Texans: 83rd Legislature is in session!
Fellow Texans — Did You Know?February 20, 2013 | 1,251 views | 1 comment
Fellow Texans, did you know or realize that the 83rd Texas Legislative Session began Jan. 8? Or do you even care? Sometimes we citizens feel powerless about government, but that is another issue. This legislative session will present many challenges for the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) that must be met. We are not powerless, but have a strong voice, with a membership of more than 75,000.
First, there are changes in leadership in the Texas Senate with five new senators, and in the Texas House there are 43 new representatives. This means these new legislators lack the experience with working on complicated issues, and they lack the knowledge of the history of the TRS Pension Fund or TRS-Care funding. TRTA must educate these new legislators. They will be a definite target for special interest groups pushing to change the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) as we know it today.
Second, improvement in funding for the TRS Pension Fund is a must. Even though TRS is the best-funded pension plan in our country, with a value of more than $112 billion, and is able to pay projected benefits through the year 2075, it needs to be actuarially sound. TRTA supports the increase of the state contribution to 6.9 percent in 2014 and to 7.4 percent in 2015. The last legislative session cut funding to 6 percent in 2012 and then to 6.4 percent in 2013. At the current rate (6.4 percent), there is no way retirees will ever be able to have a permanent cost-of-living increase. There has been no cost-of-living increase in 12 years.
A third challenge is that improvement in funding for the TRS-Care Program, which is the teachers’ and school personnel’s health-insurance fund, is most critical. TRTA supports funding of 1 percent in both years of the biennium or of any additional increase. Last session, the appropriation was reduced to 0.5 percent in 2012, and then to 1 percent in 2013, which forced TRS to spend a large amount of the program’s reserve fund. The program is experiencing a number of changes to contain program costs. Even though benefit levels for some TRS-Care participants have improved, the fact remains the program is running out of money. Retirees do not get a free ride. They pay significant premiums, co-pays, out-of-pocket expenses, and deductibles, and pay some Medicare costs on top of TRS-Care expenses.
Tim Lee, the executive director of TRTA, emphasized that TRS is “a long-term venture,” and that it is in the “forever business.” He also has stated, “The state cannot keep doing the minimum in funding and hope for maximum results.” Now is the time for some moderate changes to protect the system for the long-term.
On a positive note, at the start of the legislative session, TRTA reports that the baseline proposals show a budget increase for the TRS programs. State revenues are up and the state’s reserve “Rainy Day” fund has increased.
The local retired teacher group, Wilson County Retired School Personnel, is prepared to participate in a capitol rally on March 20. We are asking all TRS members, active and retired, which is an impressive number of more than 1.3 million members, also to participate in contacting legislators, sending them fact sheets, letters, and emails.
We all need to inform our legislators of the facts. That is, most members (95 percent) do not have Social Security, but rely solely on the TRS pension. Retirees have earned their financial security, and it needs to be protected. Retirees need a cost-of-living increase because there has been none since the year 2000.
Please stay tuned for future articles with suggestions.
Pris Kincaid is a retired Texas educator who lives in Wilson County.
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The Marcelina Muse
Dry Tank, TX
February 20, 2013 10:21am
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