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Tue July 12, 2005
TX Sen. Duncan's TRS Bill Tagged; Teacher Group Lobbies Against Passage
By J. Lyn Carl, GalleryWatch.com
Austin, TX –
Sen. Robert Duncan's (R-Lubbock) SB 8, relating to school and college retiree benefits and scheduled for a hearing in the Senate State Affairs Committee today, was tagged by Sen. Juan Hinojosa (D-McAllen). The tag on the bill means it will not be eligible to be heard in committee before Thursday.
The bill drew widespread opposition from active Texas teachers. Linda Bridges, president of the Texas Federation of Teachers, said Duncan's bill would take the state "backwards" in its attempts to attract and retain quality teachers. "Lawmakers have increased the costs teachers pay for their retirement health-care benefits," said Bridges, "cut their promised pension benefits, and slashed the health-care stipend for all current teachers and school employees." She said it is time the state began to offer incentives for teachers, rather than disincentives.
While Duncan has touted his bill as one that will help keep the teacher retirement actuarially sound, Bridges said the reason the fund is in position where retiree benefits can't be increased is because "the state had been cutting its contributions to the system for more than a decade."
Cutting benefits for teachers, said Bridges, will create "an incentive for them to leave the profession."
Duncan's bill would require certain future retirees to take an annuity reduction of 3 percent per year each year prior to age 60 that they retire. Certain active members of the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) who meet a specific criteria are grandfathered. It also retains the Rule of 80.
Bridges said Duncan's changes regarding retirement age would affect two-thirds, or some 450,000 - of current school and college employees.
Bridges described the 13th check for retirees described in the Duncan bill as a "mirage," noting it merely directs TRS officials "to grant a one-time bonus check equal to one monthly benefit if TRS accountants conclude eventually that the fund can afford it."
While SB 8 promises a state salary supplement for teachers whose age and service total 80 years, it would require more than $1 billion in future pension benefits, explained the teacher group representative. She said the bill has "a spoonful of sugar for some classroom teachers, but nowhere near enough to mask the bitter medicine of deep pension cuts" for two-thirds of school and college employees.
In a letter today to members of the Senate State Affairs Committee, Bridges urged members to vote against the bill in committee today. This was before Hinojosa tagged the bill.
"Under SB 8," wrote Bridges in her letter, "currently retired educators are offered hope, but no guarantee, of a one-time pension bonus - a 13th check - from the Teacher Retirement System. In addition, teachers close to retirement are being offered the promise of a $1,000 to $4,000 yearly supplement in exchange for a permanent retirement benefit cut." That will result in more than $1 billion in future TRS pension benefits, said Bridges.
The Texas Federation of Teachers official said some unknowing teacher retirees are urging legislators to vote for the bill. She said that is because "they are being offered '30 pieces of silver but they are not being told that the price for their promised benefit is the permanent reduction of benefits for their younger counterparts."