Senator Lucio's Letterhead

CAPITOL UPDATE FROM SEN. EDDIE LUCIO, JR.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 22, 2007
CONTACT: Doris Sanchez , Press Secretary
Phone: (512) 463-0385

Teacher Retirement Pension Fund Needs Upgrade

We repeatedly hear about the need to pay teachers what they are really worth and to increase their benefits, especially health insurance.

A quieter but just as important related topic is what retired teachers receive from their pension plans. The amounts are not only pitiful, but they fall behind in terms of cost-of-living and inflation adjustments.

To alleviate the financial distress many retired teachers and retired school personnel encounter, I have filed Senate Bill 492. This legislation would increase a retired teacher's monthly retirement, disability or death benefit by a five percent cost-of-living adjustment. Retired teachers have not received a cost of living increase since 2001.

One of the motivating factors that prompted me to file this bill came from a poignant message written in a letter sent to me by Ms. Sylvia G. Suarez from Brownsville. The retired teacher, who also serves as legislative chair of the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) for District 1 wrote, "We have given many hours to promote the best education and now we have been forgotten." Who would not be stirred by such a moving and true comment?

Ms. Suarez also reminded us that "with the higher taxes, increased healthcare cost, higher cost of gasoline, electricity and higher cost of living" their retirement annuities have not increased to meet and maintain a healthy living standard.

As a former educator and someone with many siblings and relatives involved in public education, I can sympathize with the neglect our retired teachers endure. It has been tremendously rewarding to receive hundreds of phone calls from retired teachers throughout the state thanking me just for filing the bill. They understand that this is the first step in a lengthy process that also involves compromise at the financial rung of this legislative ladder. As a member of the Senate Finance Committee, I will work with my colleagues to make possible this cost of living adjustment, which will be based on the performance of investments of the Teacher Retirement System pension fund. I was glad to be approached the other day by Sen. Robert Duncan, a member of Finance and chair of the State Affairs Committee, who differs slightly on the amount of the increase. He indicated that he would like to join me at the table in finding solutions to this issue.

Mr. Tim Lee, executive director of the TRTA says, "Providing retired educators with a real cost of living raise will help ensure their quality of life during their retirement years."

The increase would also include retired school paraprofessionals, many of whom live at poverty levels. Some are reported to be receiving pension checks of between $300 to $600 a month. I've heard accounts that a retired teacher's spouse dies and the retiree must sell their home because mortgage payments and upkeep become unaffordable. Texas can do better than this in taking care of the people who have devoted their lives to instructing generations of youngsters. I for one am committed to doing so.

As always, if you have any input or questions regarding these or other matters, please do not hesitate to contact Doris Sanchez, my press secretary, 512-463-0385.

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