Tens of thousands of Texas AFT members—more than 35,000 to date—have contacted their state legislators to insist on a fair deal on TRS benefits and contributions, and the grass-roots campaign is showing results.
Thanks to all of you who have taken the time to communicate with your legislators in Austin, the Texas Senate today approved a compromise version of SB 1458 containing two key elements of a fair TRS deal that had been lacking until now. The state will contribute substantially more to the TRS pension fund than previously proposed in the coming two-year budget cycle, and employee contributions will rise gradually rather than abruptly. In addition, state and local employer contributions will continue to be higher than employee contributions in future years. Senators also found it possible to increase state funding for the TRS-Care program that school employees depend on for decent health coverage in retirement.The combination of grass-roots pressure and hard negotiating by our legislative allies has led to this substantial improvement in the TRS bill. Sens. Kirk Watson (D-Austin), Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth), and Royce West (D-Dallas) played crucial roles in winning the Senate-passed improvements. Sen. Robert Duncan (R-Lubbock) too gets credit for leaving his door open to negotiations to modify his bill.
As this legislation now moves over to the House and ultimately to a House-Senate conference committee, the same combination of grass-roots communication and tough negotiations in the capitol could bring further improvements sought by Texas AFT for retired and active school employees, such as an immediate benefit increase for all rather than just one-third of retirees, as well as prospective-only application of a new minimum retirement age for full pension benefits. (As it now stands under SB 1458, school employees who do not have five years of service credit by September 1, 2014, would be subject to the new minimum age of 62 for full, unreduced retirement benefits). So be prepared to launch another wave of messages to members of the Texas House!
To review: Under SB 1458 as amended on the Senate floor today, employee contributions would remain at 6.4 percent in fiscal 2014 (starting September 2013), while the state contribution would rise to 6.8 percent. In fiscal 2015, the employee contribution would be 6.7 percent, while the state continues to contribute 6.8 percent, plus school districts that do not contribute to Social Security would kick in another 1.5 percent. In fiscal 2016, the employee contribution would go to 7.2 percent, while the state and district contributions would hold at 6.8 percent and 1.5 percent; in fiscal 2017, the employee contribution would rise to 7.7 percent, which still would be less than the combined state/district total of 8.3 percent.
If the state were to reduce its contribution below 6.8 percent, employee and district contributions would fall by an equal percentage.