2016 Legislative Goals*
- Protect and improve the Teachers’ Retirement System (TRS) defined benefit plan design.
- Achieve a cost-of-living benefits adjustment (COLA) for retired TRS members.
- Ensure adequate TRS actuarial funding, in part by opposing legislation that would reduce or eliminate tax revenues dedicated to the support of the system.
- Establish a permanent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) revolving fund for all state retirement systems, supported by dedicated funding sources.
- Protect the independent status of the TRS Board of Trustees by opposing consolidation with other state retirement boards.
- Protect and improve the health insurance premium subsidy for retired educators.
- Increase from $5,000 to $7,500 the death benefit payable to beneficiaries of retired educators.
- Support adequate legislatively appropriated funding for public education at all levels.
- Enhance the voice of Oklahoma’s retired educators on the TRS Board of Trustees by establishing a permanent voting position to be held by a person designated by a statewide retired educator organization having 7,000 or more members.
*not in priority order
November 4, 2015
State of Oklahoma Retirement Systems
Members of the House Business, Labor and Retirement Laws Committee met in interim study October 28 to hear more good news about improvement of Oklahoma’s state retirement systems for teachers, state employees, judges and justices, and public safety, police and fire personnel.
The session was not unlike a meeting about a year ago, when lawmakers learned that Oklahoma’s public pension systems had surpassed the national average in overall funding.
Committee members heard first from Tom Spencer, executive director of the Teachers’ Retirement System – the state’s largest – accounting for more than 50% of the assets of all systems combined. Spencer reported that, in spite of less than desired investment returns for the fiscal year running from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015, TRS managed to improve its overall funding level from 63.2% to 66.6%, based on actuarial value of assets. Spencer reported that the new funding figure represented an all-time high for the historically underfunded system.
Making the funding improvement even more impressive was adoption by the Board of Trustees in May of new mortality tables recognizing a longer life span for retired educators, which added more than $400 million in liabilities that had to be overcome in order for the system to achieve its 3.4% funding gain.
Representative Randy McDaniel, committee chair, acknowledged the good work of the TRS Board of Trustees, system investment personnel and other staff. He also gave credit to the steps taken by the legislature in previous years to ensure adequate TRS funding. He cited, in particular, protection during the 2015 legislative session of state revenue from a 5% share of the state’s income, sales and use taxes dedicated to support of the retirement system. He expressed his opposition to any attempts to divert TRS funding to other governmental purposes.
McDaniel and Spencer also noted the positive effect on TRS funding made possible due to system annuitants going without a cost-of-living benefits adjustment for almost eight years.
Other state retirement systems, represented by their executive directors, also posted positive funding results for the year. Joe Fox, head of the Oklahoma Public Employees Retirement System (OPERS), reported a 93.67% funding level for that system. Noting that the OPERS Board of Trustees oversees the retirement system for the state’s judges and justices, Fox reported a 110.9% funding level for the small plan covering less than 300.
Bob Jones, chief of the retirement plan for municipal and county firefighters, pointed to progress for his system, although it now trails the Teachers’ Retirement System in overall funding at 65%.
Steve Snyder, executive director for the police pension plan, spoke positively about his system’s 98.2% funding level, joining Fox in intimating a need for a benefits improvement for systems at or near 100% funding.
The final presenter was Ginger Poplin, head of the Oklahoma Law Enforcement Retirement System (OLERS), who touted her system’s conservative approach to investment and management. She said that the system’s current 87.8% funding level is less than the previous year, due to a recent significant improvement in compensation approved by the legislature for some active personnel, coupled with a companion benefits improvement for retirees. State troopers, agents of the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, and the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation are covered by OLERS.
Of the 10 members of the House Committee, Chair McDaniel and members Charlie Joyner, Mark McBride, and Kevin Wallace were in attendance.
All of the retirement systems reporting to the interim study panel are defined benefit pension plans, which provide lifetime financial security to retired system members based on a formula accounting for final average salary, years of creditable service, and a retirement multiplier.
Tell Us about Your Legislator Meeting
October 26, 2015
Recently, we posted on the OREA website or sent an email asking you and your retired educator friends to contact your state senator and representative to schedule and hold meetings in advance of the 2016 session of the Oklahoma legislature.
Your meetings will be among 149 held ahead of the legislative session to make sure that lawmakers know about OREA’s legislative goals and can be counted on to respond positively to the needs of Oklahoma’s 59,000 retired educators during the session that begins Monday, February 1.
Critically important – once your meeting has been held – is for OREA to receive a report from you about how it went. What was discussed? What was your legislator’s attitude toward OREA’s legislative goals? Is he or she willing to provide support and leadership on our issues? Is there anything OREA needs to do to follow up on your meeting, such as providing answers to questions you were unable to address?
To help you report to us, please click below to reach a form titled “Pre-Session Meeting with Legislator.” When you fill in the form, we’ll learn a lot about your legislator’s attitudes toward our retired educator goals. Your report will provide key information that will help OREA develop a good working relationship with your legislator. At worst, it will help us recognize him or her as an obstacle we’ll have to overcome or work around.
Delegates to the recently completed OREA House of Delegates have asked that meetings with all legislators take place before February 1. It’s a daunting task, but one that can be accomplished. We know we can count on you.
When you have a meeting with your legislator, tell us about it!
Within days, you’ll be hearing from us about OREA’s goals for the 2016 legislative session. Stay tuned!
Print the Lobby Pre-Session Meeting with Legislator Report Form
Guide to a Successful Pre-Session Meeting
with Your Legislator
- Write or call your hometown state representative or senator as soon as possible, introducing yourself as an OREA member wanting to set up a meeting between the legislator and a small group of retired educators before the legislative session begins.
- If you don’t already know your lawmaker personally, provide him/her a little information about yourself.
- Put together a group of retired educator colleagues – preferably OREA members – to meet with your legislators individually or together.
- Invite the legislator to attend a legislative social, forum, or similar event in your town or school district to discuss current issues involving public education and retired educators. Light refreshments are never out of order, but are not necessary. Coffee or iced tea is always appropriate. Pay for your legislator’s refreshments.
- Your meeting can be as formal or informal as you wish to make it. Any meeting time from breakfast to early evening is appropriate. Do not allow the meeting to go too long. Be respectful of your legislator’s time.
- Before meeting with your lawmaker, call OREA for topics that would be appropriate for discussion at the meeting. If you think it is necessary for an OREA representative to accompany you and your group at the meeting, make the request.
- Study the 2016 OREA legislative goals, and plan to use them as an aid to discussion in your meeting.
- Prepare your own list of talking points to provide some structure to the conversation you expect to have with your lawmaker.
- Encourage your lawmaker to share his/her own thoughts/goals regarding state government, but specifically the Teachers’ Retirement System or the HealthChoice health, dental, disability, and life insurance programs.
- Gently work to make sure your legislator stays on topic; don’t allow him/her to monopolize the dialogue.
- Make sure that the conversation with your legislator is civil, professional, and friendly (to the extent that is possible, depending on the disposition of the legislator, of course).
- Respond with a strong answer when your legislator requests information or an opinion. If you do not have an answer, assure him/her you will get one. Show your willingness to provide assistance to the legislator whenever possible.
- Throughout the meeting, alternate the use of closed-and open-ended questions to get specific answers or encourage broader responses.
- From time to time, ask the legislator how you can assist him/her to accomplish mutual goals.
- As your meeting ends, assure the lawmaker you and your group will remain in touch throughout the legislative session. Tell him/her you will appreciate any and all efforts to help OREA achieve its legislative goals.
- Within a day or two of the meeting, send a note of thanks to your legislator for meeting with you.
- Within a day or two, please provide a written report of the meeting to OREA. Call OREA at (405) 523-4371 (Norman Cooper direct) to report information you think is especially important. Send your written report to: Oklahoma Retired Educators Association, Attn: Norman Cooper, P. O. Box 18485, Oklahoma City, OK 73154.
October 7, 2015
Delegates Challenge Members
to Meet with all Legislators
It’s a daunting task, but an important one: meet with 149 legislators in less than 120 days.
Delegates attending the meeting of the OREA House of Delegates Wednesday, September 30, said it’s something that needs to be done, if we are to lay the groundwork for a successful 2016 legislative session.
Based on the belief that positive relationships with legislators built on straightforward communications offer the best chance for OREA to effectively advocate for the interests of retired educators, the delegates have laid down a challenge that will be hard – but not impossible – to accomplish.
OREAprofessional lobbyists will work with representatives from local OREA units and individual groups of members before the February 1 start of the legislative session to coordinate meetings with lawmakers all across Oklahoma. We want them to know who we are and what we stand for, and we want to know the same about them.
Soon, the Government Relations Committee will announce OREA’s legislative goals for the 2016 legislative session. Those goals, of course, will be an important part of the conversation with lawmakers. We’ll seek to explain how we arrived at our goals, and why they are important to us.
We’ll try to determine how individual lawmakers’ priorities stack up against our own, and whether we can count on them to be true friends when critical legislative decisions have to be made.
In the weeks to come, OREA will provide suggested discussion topics and talking points to ensure conversational structure, but the essence of the meetings will be real retired educators going face-to-face with the people that represent them at the state Capitol. The conversations will be civil – even friendly in most cases – and professional, befitting the kind of people that we are.
Objective number one is to contact your state representative or senator soon to ask for a meeting. When confirmed, let the OREA office know the when and where. If available and desired by members, someone from OREA could attend the meeting too, but if not, at least some discussion beforehand could prove helpful.
Contact Norman Cooper (405-523-4371) or Terry Ingmire (405-269-5740) with news about your meeting.
October 6, 2015
Sign and Circulate OREA Petition
Calling for TRS Benefits Improvement
Delegates to the 2015 OREA House of Delegates are calling upon Governor Mary Fallin and members of the state legislature to act to improve benefits for Oklahoma’s 57,000 retired educators.
Retired educators have not had a cost-of-living adjustment to their retirement annuities since 2008, when a 2% COLA was granted. That was when all other state retirees received a 4% COLA.
Since 2008, retired educators have suffered the loss of more than 15% of the purchasing power of their retirement annuities.
By not receiving a COLA every other year since 2008, retired educators have themselves enhanced the funding level of the Teachers’ Retirement System by a billion dollars or more.
In addition, responsible management of the system and excellent investment returns in most years have combined to add billions in asset value, resulting in significant improvement in the system’s actuarial funding level. Professional actuaries say TRS is on a path toward 100% funding in a little over a decade.
Current law allows for benefits improvements to be granted to retired educators and/or the retired members of other state government retirement systems, but such improvements must be on a pay-as-you-go basis.
OREA members must demand that the governor and the legislature take seriously the need for a benefits improvement for retired educators. State leaders must come up with a plan to provide a cost-of-living benefits adjustment (COLA) or other meaningful benefits improvement during the 2016 legislative session.
To urge Governor Mary Fallin and legislators to act now, delegates approved a new business item last week calling all OREA members, their families and friends to circulate a petition statewide between now and the beginning of the 2016 legislative session in February.
A copy of the petition accompanies this legislative update. Will you make one or more copies, sign it yourself, circulate it as widely as possible, and return it to OREA at the address shown at the bottom of the petition?
Through our petition, let’s tell Oklahoma’s leaders it’s time for action to help retired educators in their fight against inflation!
PRINT THE PETITION
Supt. Hofmeister, Auditor Jones
Highlight Retired Educator Convention
October 5, 2015
Featuring State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister as keynote speaker and state Auditor Gary Jonesas the recipient of a major award, the annual convention and business meeting of the Oklahoma Retired Educators Association (OREA) convened in Tulsa September 29-30. More than 400 OREA members were in attendance.
OREA, founded in 1952, is the voice of Oklahoma’s retired educators, with 15,000 members from Oklahoma and other parts of the nation.
Hofmeister spoke forcefully yet eloquently about the state of public education in Oklahoma, focusing on inadequate funding of preK-12 schools, an ongoing critical teacher shortage, and the need to revise thinking about the role of student testing. She noted that Oklahoma’s schools are operating with less money today than in 2008, but with 40,000 more students. She lamented that Oklahoma teachers – newly-trained and veteran alike – are leaving Oklahoma for surrounding states offering significantly higher salaries. She called for making Oklahoma’s student testing simpler, cheaper, less time-consuming, and more focused on improving instruction.
As a sitting member of the Board of Trustees for the Oklahoma Teachers’ Retirement System (TRS), Hofmeister also pledged her support toward sound policies for the protection of the system, including collaboration with OREA on retirement matters of mutual concern.
State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones was presented the 2015 OREA “Friend of Retired Educators” award for his leadership in protecting state retirement systems, including TRS, from ill-advised efforts to cut system funding, reduce benefits, and make harmful system structural changes. Jones was cited for his courageous and intelligent leadership on a variety of retirement issues. His remarks to the audience in accepting the award were enthusiastically received.
During the two-day event, OREA members were able to attend a variety of workshops on relevant topics, including learning the 10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s, tips for successful legislative lobbying, key elements of the Oklahoma state budget, travel as a contributor to quality of life, and more.
Numerous organizational awards were presented to local OREA units, and 35 members were honored individually for service to their local OREA units and communities. Betty Prentice of Mayes County was honored as OREA’s “Volunteer of the Year,” and Major County Retired Educators Association garnered the “Special Community Project” award.
In the September 30 meeting of the House of Delegates, action was taken to establish a voluntary legal defense fund to protect the Teachers’ Retirement System, circulate a petition statewide urging the governor and legislative leaders to take action regarding benefits improvements, and commend certain legislators for their courageous leadership in protecting TRS funding during the 2015 legislative session.
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