Texas AFT Retiree+ Member Advocates for COLA at TRS Board Meeting

Texas AFT Retiree+ member Phyllis Ruffin speaks during the public comment portion of the TRS Board of Trustees meeting.

This Thursday and Friday, the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) Board of Trustees convened for its quarterly meeting. 

The TRS board received a report from contracted economic analysts discussing the effect TRS pension and healthcare payments have had on the Texas economy over the past fiscal year. When totalling payments made by the TRS pension fund, the TRS-Care fund, and the TRS-ActiveCare fund, TRS paid out a total of $19 billion in fiscal year 2022. The analysts projected that this influx of $19 billion into the Texas economy contributed to the creation of over 200,000 jobs, with roughly 145,000 of those jobs created as a result of pension payments alone. Every month, TRS sends out over $900 million in pension checks. By the end of fiscal year 2023, that monthly number is expected to reach over $1 billion.

TRS communications staff promoted a series of videos recently published to the TRS website, which explain how the TRS pension fund works. 

Texas AFT Retiree+ member Phyllis Ruffin spoke during the public comment portion of the board meeting. Ruffin spoke in support of a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to members’ monthly pension annuity. 

“Educators work hard,” Ruffin said. “They deserve to be paid more, and they deserve a COLA.” 

Ruffin’s comments received vocal support from board members. The TRS board cannot implement a COLA without action by the state Legislature, but it can certainly exert pressure on the legislature to take its share of the responsibility and keep its promise. Retired educators who retired since 2004 have not seen a COLA and are long overdue for one. 

Ruffin herself is running to represent retirees on the TRS board. Both active and retired TRS members  may sign Phyllis’ online nomination petition now and are eligible to vote for her when the voting begins in March 2023.

The board also briefly discussed the implementation of Senate Bill 13, which requires state governmental entities to divest from companies perceived to be boycotting the fossil fuel industry, but the majority of that discussion took place in executive session, out of the public eye. The TRS board has the authority to enter into executive session to discuss certain legal matters with legal counsel. 

In open session, TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie said TRS intends to follow the law to the best of its ability, but that was the only public mention of SB 13. SB 13 specifically notes that a state government entity is exempt from taking action on SB 13 if the entity determines that the action would be inconsistent with its constitutional responsibility to maintain a healthy fund.

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar recently announced a list of 10 companies and 348 investment funds that he declared “boycotted energy companies” and would thus be barred from doing business with any state entity, including TRS.