Pension fight steadily building

The fight is building already. A powerful business group in Houston is forming a pressure group – Texans for Public Pension Reform – whose goal is to dismantle public workers’ pension plans. A consensus is building among anti-public services/anti-public employee legislators that Texas cannot afford decent retirement and health benefits for public employees. Well-funded right-wing think tanks are providing “research” and talking points.

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the preeminent national far-right organization of state legislators, and the Texas Public Policy Foundation have both made public employee benefits major targets for 2012-2013. The TPPF held a forum in Austin in October 2011 to begin building its campaign for the 2013 legislative session.

Meanwhile, the Employees Retirement System held three day-long forums in November 2011 that focused on state employee pensions, state employee health care, and state employee workforce issues. While many of the speakers at the ERS forums backed up the importance of our current benefit structure, the forums made it clear that ERS takes the coming attack very seriously. TSEU was invited to have a representative on a panel at the third forum that also included other state employee organizations and representatives of state agencies and universities.

The 260,000 people who live on sub-standard salaries to work for state agencies and universities need and deserve quality, affordable retirement and health plans. And it’s not just individual employees who have a stake: our pension and health plans play a major role in our agencies’ and universities’ ability to hire and retain staff. With turnover still at crisis levels during a major recession, the State of Texas cannot afford to cut the benefits that attract the employees we need.