Senate Finance Committee discusses preliminary budget; ATPE urges healthcare funding fix
Date Posted: 2/12/2015
This week, the Senate Finance Committee began meeting to discuss education issues within the Senate's preliminary budget. The committee heard from Texas Education Agency (TEA) and Teacher Retirement System (TRS) employees about agency needs, requests, and operations, and how the proposed budget would affect their duties. ATPE testified before the committee twice, commenting on proposed TEA and TRS budgets and voicing ATPE’s priorities. One of the most important issues facing the legislature this session is the healthcare program for retired education employees known as TRS-Care. If no action is taken, the healthcare program is projected to run out of funding in 2016. TRS staff members have asked the legislature to provide nearly $800 million in supplemental funding to keep TRS-Care functioning for another two years; however, the Senate's budget plan does not include this amount. The only increase in the Senate's proposed TRS budget is to account for how statewide payroll growth affects the state’s contribution to the pension trust fund. ATPE expressed to committee members that finding a solution to make TRS-Care stable, sustainable, and sufficient to provide benefits is one of our top priorities. ATPE also stated the importance of not placing additional financial burdens on active or retired members through increased contributions or premiums. It is our belief that the state should increase its share of the cost of TRS-Care. Currently, retirees cover 38 percent of the total cost of the plan, while the state only covers 23 percent. ATPE also testified about the increasing burdens placed on active school employees through increased health insurance premiums. Healthcare inflation has long been an issue plaguing plan participants; however, the primary problem with TRS-ActiveCare is that funding has largely been static since the program's creation in 2001, and it greatly lags that of similar public and private sector healthcare plans. The state has contributed $75 a month per eligible employee since the program was implemented in 2002, and any increase in premiums has been absorbed almost entirely by employees. ATPE stressed the importance of drastically increasing state contributions to employees' healthcare in order to make the plan affordable, accessible, and sufficient to provide adequate benefits. The initial Senate budget did not include funding for many of ATPE’s priorities; however, this version of the budget is merely a starting point for negotiations. We will be in regular contact with Senators throughout the session to convey ATPE's message regarding healthcare. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates.
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