Friday, March 16, 2018

Which Texas Legislator(s) Will Step Up to the Plate?

            As the returns from the Texas Primary Election came in Tuesday, March 6, I have to admit I felt defeated.  I had such hopes that public-education employees and retirees, and our supporters (including our students), would come out in overwhelming numbers, using our votes as our voices to speak out against the disgraceful lack of school funding and the shameful healthcare nightmare Texas public education retirees are living.  It is a nightmare created by Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, most members of the Texas Senate, and some members of the Texas House.
            However, Wednesday morning, I awakened with an entirely new outlook.  After all, I didn’t know Scott Milder, Dan Patrick’s Primary opponent, until recently.  But as I read about his credentials—a bachelor’s in journalism and radio/TV/film and a master’s in public relations, a former school district public information officer, a former reporter/photographer, a former Rockwall City Council member, a senior associate for Stantec Architecture, and, along with his wife, a small business owner and founder of Friends of Texas Public Schools—I knew he was exactly what the Texas Legislature needed.  As I looked at the Primary results with fresh eyes, I realized it was an incredible feat for Milder to garner 24 percent of the vote.  Three-hundred-sixty-seven thousand, nine-hundred-fifty-four people voted for Milder.  That’s 367,954 Texans who voted in the Republican Primary who did not want Patrick back.  I sincerely believe our hopes for the 2019 Legislative Session can be realized if we remain relentless between now and November’s General Election when Patrick faces a Milder-endorsed Democrat, Mike Collier.
            I attended the final day of the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) three-day session at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley February 16.  Although I had no intention of doing so when I arrived, I testified at the start of the public hearing that day.  While there, I also picked up TRS: A Great Value for All Texans, a booklet published by TRS in February of 2017.  After seeing the chart on page nine, I filed a Public Information Request with TRS, seeking a breakdown of average pensions for school custodians, secretaries, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and maintenance workers, who are also covered under TRS. 
            I searched the Employees Retirement System of Texas (ERS), the state’s retirement system for all state employees not working in our public schools and for retired legislators, to locate a benefit distribution chart for these employees.  When I couldn’t find one, I filed a PIR with ERS February 23, asking for a chart like the one on page nine in the TRS booklet that lists monthly pensions and the percentage of ERS retirees who receive each amount.  I also asked for a similar chart specifically for Texas legislators who receive ERS pensions.  Twelve business days later, March 13, I received this response from ERS:

            So, while we know that 32 percent of TRS retirees—the highest percentage on the page-nine chart—earn a pension of only $1 to $1,000 each month, there is no chart available to the public with the percentage of ERS members who earn this paltry amount?  How in the world does this constitute “confidential information” when I did not ask for names of the individuals receiving these pensions?
            Do you know what the annual salary for Texas legislators is?  Do you know how their ERS pension is calculated?  If not, you will when you read my column next week.  You will learn that the outrageous discrepancies between the legislators’ healthcare premiums and deductibles and ours aren’t the only injustices.  Wait until you hear how the state arrives at the pension for members of our “elected class” who retire under ERS.

            In the meantime, these are my questions for this week:

1.  Which Texas Legislator(s) will step up to the plate to demand a fix to the TRS healthcare nightmare?
2.  Which Texas Legislator(s) will fight for an in-depth study BEFORE the 2019 Legislative Session on how ERS and TRS can be merged or, at the very least, how both systems under the control of the Texas Legislature can offer the same level of benefits?
3.  Which Texas Legislator(s) will ask why ERS does not provide a benefit distribution chart to the public and how they can claim this is “confidential member information”?
4.  Which Texas Legislator(s) will collect all of the stories of what TRS members are enduring as a result of the 2017 Legislative Session into a book for Gov. Abbott, Lt. Gov. Patrick, and all members of the House and Senate?
5.  Which Texas Legislator(s) will lead the charge to end our nightmare?

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