Proposition 9 would increase pensions for retired teachers and public school employees

ByKevin Vu, The Texas Tribune
Saturday, November 4, 2023
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For 28 years, Joe Ramirez taught social studies in Austin for students including President George W. Bush's daughters, four-time Grammy award-winning musician Gary Clark Jr. and former Gov. Rick Perry's son. After retiring in 2012, he said he initially was able to live on his $2,200-a-month check from the Teacher Retirement System of Texas.

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A decade later, his rent in Austin has doubled, and despite having a higher pension than the state average because he retired as an administrator, he's worried that it won't keep up with his increasing expenses and inflation.

"It's tough for me, even with my higher pension," said Ramirez, who is president of Austin's Retired Teachers Association. "It's more of a month-to-month thing because of rent, rising cost of groceries, medication, and gasoline. It's very difficult to make it."

Public school teachers and other school employees pay into the Teacher Retirement System of Texas, which sends them monthly payments after they retire. Teachers who retired before 2004 have not seen their pensions increase since 2013 despite increasing inflation, said Tim Lee, the Texas Retired Teachers Association's executive director.

But retirees could soon see an increase in their monthly retirement checks if Texas voters approve Proposition 9, which would authorize the state to use $3.3 billion to fund cost-of-living adjustments for retirees, in the Nov. 7 constitutional amendment election. Lawmakers earlier this year unanimously passed Senate Bill 10, which put the issue on the statewide ballot.

According to TRS, just under 476,000 retired teachers received an average monthly payment of $2,174 in 2022. Under Prop. 9, retired teachers would see their pensions increase between 2% and 6%.

Those who retired before Aug. 31, 2001, would receive a 6% increase, while those who retired between Aug. 31, 2001 and Aug. 31, 2013 would receive a 4% increase. Teachers and employees who retired between Aug. 31, 2013, and Aug. 31, 2020, would receive a 2% increase.

Over the past 20 years, inflation has eroded retired teachers' income: According to the Consumer Price Index, $100 in September 2004 has the same buying power as $162.08 in September 2023.

"Our retirees have the same amount of monthly income that they had back in 2004 if they've been retired for that long," Lee said. "It's a real financial burden that these folks carry. These folks have to live in the same economy that all the rest of us do."

The money for the pension increase would come from the state's budget surplus, Lee said, so it would not require a tax increase on Texans. If it passes, Lee said he hopes the proposition sets a precedent for the Legislature to increase teacher pensions more frequently.

"It does give the Legislature an opportunity to enact things like another cost-of-living increase in a future legislative session," Lee said.

Lee said the cost of living increase would also benefit former public school employees like bus drivers, nurses, paraprofessionals, librarians, and others.

"I think it's important for our current school employees to see that we are going to help take care of our retired school employees," Lee said. "It's vital for them to see that their future is not bleak, that there is hope coming when we do things like this for our current retirees, and we'll do it for our future retirees as well."

Ramirez, who would receive a 4% increase if Prop. 9 passes, said he'd like voters to think about their former teachers when they decide on the measure.

"Think of your favorite teacher who you had in school," Ramirez said. "And now that they're retired, think about what they're trying to survive on. They did a lot for you, now it's time for you to do something for them."

Disclosure: Texas Retired Teachers Association has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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