in Houston, Texas
Pension reform will be a bloody fight between GOP factions in the Texas legislature
Tuesday, Sep 18, 2012, 09:14AM CST
By Mark Lisheron

When your party has owned your state in what seems like forever, eventually you drum up things to fight about within your own party.

For Republicans in Texas, pension reform is made to order.

Several Republicans, including current House pensions committee members like State Rep. Rob Orr, R-Burleson, who reportedly would like to be the committee’s next chairman, think the Teacher Retirement System of Texas and the Employees Retirement System of Texas are swell the way they are, the Austin American-Statesman reports.

There is ample evidence of crisis in state pension systems in other states. Pension reform has become a rallying cry for small government conservatives across the country.

But although the two largest government pension programs in Texas have a combined unfunded liability of $28 billion, some experts have pronounced them healthier than most.

Recent reports by both funds argue that changing them, by moving toward a 401(k) contribution model, would be costly and counterproductive.

But to show how the lines of debate have been redrawn, Rep. Vicki Truitt, R-Keller, chairman of the House Pensions, Investments and Financial Services Committee and a supporter of the status quo, was rather badly pummelled in the Republican primary in May and won’t be part of the coming Legislative session.

Until her thumping, Truitt had been mixing it up pretty good with the more conservative elements of her party, at one point dropping a book-length Texas Ethics Commission complaint on activist Michael Quinn Sullivan and his two non-profits, Texans for Fiscal Responsibility and Empower Texans.

Sullivan says he has heard nothing about the complaint from the Ethics Commission, but was pleased voters in Tarrant County saw fit to fire Truitt.

“It's in the TEC black hole, as far as I know,” Sullivan told Texas Watchdog Monday. “Ms. Truitt has a record of legislating poorly, and she didn't appreciate our work in letting taxpayers know just how badly she was misrepresenting them in Austin.”

Sullivan has urged the Legislature to reform state pensions, which a contributor to Empower Texans recently called a  “ticking time bomb.

Orr’s views on what kind of ordnance state pensions are will almost certainly determine whether or not his political wish is granted.

Update (Sept. 19): This article was updated to clarify that the opinion that unfunded government pensions is a ticking time bomb is the opinion of Michele Samuelson, a contributor to Empower Texans, and not the opinion of Empower Texans.

Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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Photo of Texas state Capitol by flickr user eschipul, used via a Creative Commons license.

Kenneth D. Franks
Thursday, 09/20/2012 - 06:58AM

We need the legislature to leave the defined annuity benefit alone. The only thing they should do is slightly increase the state's contribution to the fund.

Bonnie J Johnston
Tuesday, 11/06/2012 - 11:11AM

I agree with the comment from the previous person,Mr Franks that the legistature needs to leave peoples pensions alone.Obviously 401K 's are not enough for people to retire on,when the market it so volatile.

Wednesday, 11/07/2012 - 07:29AM

Lets start the change with the ERS retirement system for Texas state elected officials. Eligible after 8 years or at 50 years of age! What a joke. Why screw all the teachers who have provided a lifetime of public service?

Amy K C
Monday, 11/19/2012 - 02:25PM

I did not teach in Texas and contribute to TRS for 28 years to have my pension restructured 2 years before I plan to retire. I have contributed to a system that promised all teachers retirement benefits for a lifetime. I planned my life, raised a family, bought a home, with this kind of retirement system in mind. When I began teaching in the early 80's, I had no idea that this wonderful state of Texas would possibly make these kinds of drastic changes to my life.

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