Pension reform will be a bloody fight between GOP factions in the Texas legislature

capitol

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.

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

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