The Brown County Retired Teachers Association traveled to Austin on Wednesday for a rally with former teachers from across the state as the 85th Texas Legislature considers impactful laws and a new budget.   

The rally day, which occurs every two years during regular legislative sessions, boasted higher-than-usual attendance as nearly 2,000 retired teachers expressed support for TRS-Care, low insurance premiums and defined benefit plans. The Brown County retirees were joined by groups from Coleman and Eastland counties as well.   

Reta Bell is the president of the Brown County Retired Teachers Association, the local chapter of the Texas Retired Teachers Association. Bell said TRS-Care, the retired teachers’ healthcare program, is a top priority for the organization this year. “Right now, the Senate has a bill before the House that makes our insurance go up to like $500 a month,” Bell said. She said that would wipe out most of the annuity or pension that retired teachers receive.   

The rally day began early, as local attendees bussed together to the state capitol. The House viewing gallery was packed full with retired teachers, all wearing red in an expression of solidarity. Unable to enter the House chamber as it filled, many teachers entered the Senate gallery instead, filling both chambers with red.   

The Brown County delegation then visited the offices of Representative Mike Lang and Senator Dawn Buckingham. In Lang’s office, chief of staff Zach Maxwell was able to converse with the educators in a crowded conference room to update them on the relevant legislation.   

House Bill 2, for instance, was originally a proposal to use $500 million of the state’s rainy day fund to supplement TRS-Care. Maxwell said the funding had been added to House Bill 1, a general appropriations bill that includes TRS-Care and would not require the use of rainy day funds.    

“That way it will be a clean supplemental bill, and that’s the way it should be,” Maxwell said.   

Maxwell said Lang is committed to fixing the problem in a more long-term way during the next legislative session. “You can bet your bottom dollar we’re going to be working on a plan,” he said.   

After the office visits, the delegation met with the rest of the TRTA on the capitol’s south steps, where the entire organization gathered for a rally. The TRTA then moved to the east lawn for an ice cream social.   

During the social, TRTA members heard brief remarks from TRTA executive director Tim Lee and Rep. Tony Tinderholt. Tinderholt encouraged the educators to hold their elected officials accountable and to not allow any more “four-year fixes.”   

Tinderholt said the teachers have already held up their end of the social bargain. “You did exactly what you said you’d do,” he said.   

After his remarks, Lee said he was encouraged by the high turnout and passionate support form TRTA members. “We’ve got a billion-dollar shortfall in the health insurance program. Money’s extremely tight in the state,” Lee said. “These folks said, hey, we’ve got to get down here and make noise and try to get some of that money.   

“I’m excited. They did a great job,” he said.   

Former Brownwood teacher and TRTA president Nancy Byler said there are currently 937 TRS annuitants in Brown County, receiving $20.7 million. “Can you just imagine what would happen to the Brown County economy if they had to start spending almost half of that on their insurance premiums?” Byler said.   

TRTA pensions consultant Ronnie Jung said the organization is working hard to minimize premium increases and fund TRS-Care for as long as possible, preferably for the next four years, to avoid another round of budgetary brinksmanship in 2019.   

He said retired teachers’ healthcare will eventually need to change more drastically. “Unless we change the whole structure and funding or they’re willing to put more money in, it cannot be sustained in the long run,” he said. “We’re on a pace to grow with more and more retirees, and health care costs are going up across the nation. We’re all facing those challenges.”   

The Brown County Retired Teachers returned to Brownwood right around 4:30 p.m., concluding a long but illuminating day at the state capitol. More information on the organization is available at www.trta.org.