December 9, 2014
“OREA Adopts Goals for 2015 Legislative Session”
After listening to hundreds of members in eight meetings held across Oklahoma during October, the OREA Government Relations Committee and Board of Directors recently approved the organization’s goals for the 2015 legislative session.
The session begins Monday, February 2, and when it does, OREA will be prepared to pursue a series of goals aimed at advancing and protecting retired educator interests.
Several goals will not require introduction of legislation, since they are focused on protecting existing retired educator rights or benefits. One of these is to prevent passage of legislation that would alter the defined benefit (DB) plan structure of the Teachers’ Retirement System. The DB plan design guarantees lifetime financial security for all retirees. A retiree will not outlive his/her income. The plan also guarantees that a retired educator’s benefit, determined at the time of retirement and based on a formula, will never be reduced.
The last two legislative sessions have featured considerable lawmaker discussion regarding the possibility of replacing the TRS defined benefit plan with a defined contribution (DC) plan, an approach to retirement that puts educators at risk of not having enough money to live with dignity during their retirement years. OREA strongly opposes replacing the current DB plan with a DC plan.
A second OREA goal will be to protect current sources of dedicated state revenues that provide critical financial support for TRS. Some lawmakers, along with at least two high-ranking statewide elected officials, have let it be known they want to scale back the state’s current financial commitment to TRS and other state pension systems. They would prefer, it is apparent, to spend less on employee retirement in favor of continued downsizing of state government, which they would accomplish by further cuts to the state’s personal income tax.
A third OREA goal is to protect the independent status of the TRS Board of Trustees. For almost two years, the Governor and the State Treasurer have advocated consolidating the boards of trustees of several state retirement systems – particularly TRS and the Oklahoma Public Employees Retirement System (OPERS) – to save an undetermined amount of money in personnel, administrative and investment expenses. OREA opposes such a move, since it would likely result in the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in TRS investment income, undermining the success of one of the best performing major public retirement systems in the nation. Penny wise and pound foolish is the way OREA views efforts to consolidate boards of trustees.
On the other side of the ledger, goals for which OREA-sponsored legislation will be introduced include: (1) achieving a cost-of-living benefits adjustment (COLA) for retired educators; (2) establishing a revolving fund in the Office of the State Treasury as a mechanism to fund future COLAs; (3) improving the state premium subsidy for retired educators participating in state-sponsored health insurance plans; and (4) increasing the current $5,000 death benefit payable to the beneficiaries of retired educators.
By the end of the 2015 legislative session, it will have been seven full years since retired educators received a 2% improvement in their benefits, the same year other state retirees received a 4% hike. In that time, retired educators have endured – through inflation – the loss of approximately 15% in the purchasing power of their monthly annuities. A benefits improvement is long overdue.
OREA will take another stab at putting into place a COLA revolving fund, out of which future benefits improvements can be granted with the identification of revenue sources. In 2013, OREA succeeded in gaining legislative passage of a COLA fund bill, only to see Governor Mary Fallin veto it at session’s end. We’ll try again.
The state health insurance premium subsidy, currently set at $105 per month for most retirees, has not been improved in the last 15 years. Established at $75 per month in 1988, the subsidy has shrunk dramatically in comparison to the overall increase of 600% in HealthChoice premiums. In addition to increasing the subsidy, OREA will seek to provide opportunities for retired educators to enroll or re-enroll in state-sponsored insurance programs after retirement, without adversely impacting the financial health of the insurance programs.
We acknowledge the abundance of economic and political obstacles standing in the way of achieving all or some of our goals. Undaunted, we will count on the active involvement of 14,000 OREA members to carry the retired educator message to each and every legislator in the state House of Representatives and Senate. Buoyed by member support, we will never give up our quest to improve the lives of Oklahoma’s retired public school educators. For over 62 years, OREA has been the retired educator voice, and will continue to be so in the future.
Thanks for your support. Have a wonderful holiday season.
(Note: For a complete listing of OREA’s 2015 legislative goals, check us out at www.orea.org, clicking on “2015 legislative goals.”
December 9, 2014
“Delivering the Retired Educator Message:
Meet with your Legislators before February 2”
There is no better way for legislators to understand and appreciate the challenges faced by Oklahoma’s retired educators than a face-to-face meeting for friendly, yet candid discussion.
Every retired educator, regardless of where you live in Oklahoma, has a state representative and senator. These legislators have been elected to represent all their constituents, including you. Regardless of their political party – or yours – their job is to represent you. You might even be surprised that most legislators actually do want to know your opinions.
And you have a right to make sure your legislators know your views on all kinds of issues, but particularly those that specifically relate to your ability to live a healthy and productive life.
For some who might be a little reticent at the prospect of sitting down to discuss matters with a legislator, let’s get past that right now. It’s no big deal. For sure, it hurts less than your recent flu shot. You might even find the meeting enjoyable. It could be a learning experience for you, and it certainly will be for your legislator.
Alone, or in a small group of other retired educators, a relatively short (30-45 minutes on average) meeting to discuss issues that you’ve identified in advance can be highly productive. Of course, effort should be taken to keep the conversation on the key issues. You might be surprised that some lawmakers are pretty good at exclusively talking about what they want, if you’ll let them.
Meetings don’t have to be expensive or elaborate in the preparations. Maybe a cup of coffee, a soft drink, a more exotic drink for the younger crowd, a cookie or doughnut (or two) – that’s all it takes to make things more sociable. The public library, senior center, the corner diner, your or a friend’s home – these are all good places to meet.
However and wherever you do it, just relax and be yourself. You’ll be surprised at how smoothly it goes.
What to talk about? We suggest OREA’s 2015 legislative goals, presented and discussed in the manner that makes you most comfortable. Check them out at www.orea.org.
After you’ve met with your legislators – one at a time, or together, your choice – do us a favor. Contact OREA and let us know who you met with, what was discussed, and what your legislators said. We’ll appreciate anything you can tell us. Have a great meeting!