Where things stand for state workers and retirees in the legislative session (update)

[May 7, 2015]

State Budget and State Services

In both the House and the Senate, budget writers have heeded Governor Abbott’s call for major tax cuts in the sales tax, business franchise tax, and property tax. While doing little to put more money in the pockets of average Texans, these tax cuts will only serve to reduce our state’s ability to invest in state employee pay and benefits as well as public services like education, human services, public safety, and health care. In total, the tax cuts passed by the House and Senate total a loss of nearly $5 billion in revenue for public services.
TSEU members and our allies in the Texas Forward Coalition have consistently called on lawmakers to fully fund state services, provide an across-the-board pay raise for state workers, fully fund our pensions, and provide a cost-of-living adjustment for state retirees before they discuss cutting taxes.
Budget estimates anticipate Texas having about $8 billion in available revenue, and another $11 billion in the Rainy Day Fund. This means that even with the tax cut proposals on the table now, Texas still has more than enough money to fully fund services and a substantial pay raise for all state workers. Despite that, both House and Senate budgets keep funding for agencies and universities flat from the previous biennium.

State Employee Pay

To date, only the House of Representatives has passed a budget that includes an across-the-board pay raise for agency workers, however this raise is almost entirely wiped out by an increase in the employee pension contribution to ERS (see “Pension” below). The 2.5% across-the-board raise was passed by the House as part of a pension bill, House Bill 9, that increases the employee ERS pension contribution to 9.5% (up from 7.2% in FY 2016). A targeted 10% raise for Parole and Juvenile Correctional officers is included in the House version of the budget. Funding for a university employee pay raise is not included in either the House or Senate budget.
House Bill 2836 by Rep. Susan King, which would eliminate longevity pay for new state employees, has been left pending in committee. At a recent hearing on the bill, TSEU members testified against the bill while union members from across the state called their legislators to ask them to oppose the bill.


Funding for the various state employee and retiree healthcare plans has been included in the initial draft budgets from the House and Senate. However, a very harmful piece of legislation that would allow employees to switch to costly Health Savings Accounts has been passed by the House of Representatives. House Bill 966 by Rep. Myra Crownover would allow employees to opt into an HSA with a high deductible insurance plan. This would drive up the costs of all state employee healthcare benefits, just as it did in Indiana recently, where they passed similar law. TSEU members will continue to work to defeat this bill as it moves to the Senate.

Pension / Retirement Benefits

The stabilization of the ERS pension fund will be achieved if House Bill 9 passes. The bill increases both the state and employee contributions to the ERS to 9.5% of state employee pay, with the employee’s share of the increase offset by a 2.5% pay raise. The bill would prevent any cuts or changes to the plan, and would help ensure that ERS is able to pay for future obligations. The TRS pension plan is expected to be funded, with no additional changes. Both the ERS and the TRS can only increase benefits for retirees when the funds are actuarially sound, meaning able to pay for 31 years of benefits with current and projected funds.
A pension increase for ERS retirees is not likely until the $7.5 billion deficit is eliminated. TSEU retiree members recently testified at a hearing of the House Pensions Committee in favor of several bills which would provide cost-of-living increases for current ERS and TRS retirees.
For the TRS, the fund is currently 80% funded, which is considered healthy, but the fund must be 100% funded before another cost-of-living increase can be provided for TRS retirees. The Senate pension plan has not been released.

Tuition Re-regulation

Numerous bills were filed to curtail sky rocketing tuition rates at public universities. TSEU supported the best of these. Now, however, the tuition reregulation bill that has the greatest chance of passing is Senate Bill 778 by Sen. Kel Seliger. SB 778 would only allow universities to increase tuition up to the rate of inflation each year, unless they met certain performance metrics, in which case they could increase tuition up to 3% plus the rate of inflation. While the goal of reregulating tuition is a good one, there are two major problems with how SB 778 does it. First, the performance metrics laid out in the bill would encourage universities to water down the quality of the education they provide, further decrease staffing levels through layoffs and consolidation, privatize campus support services, and increase class sizes. The second problem is that the Legislature is not currently planning on increasing funding for universities. Without an increase in state spending, the increases in tuition rates will only continue and universities will be forced to implement more lay-offs, consolidation, and outsourcing schemes. TSEU members are currently working to stop or alter SB 778, and to increase funding for all state universities and health science centers.


A major move is underway to further reduce the population of youths in TJJD secure facilities. Senate Bill 1630 by Sen. John Whitmire would encourage county judges to place more youths in county or contract facilities instead of state-run TJJD facilities and halfway houses. The push is to keep more youth offenders closer to home in the hope they will have a lower recidivism rate and save the state money. Although there are currently no plans to close any TJJD facilities over the next two years, SB 1630 would further reduce the population of youths in TJJD and encourage the state to close more facilities in the coming years.
TSEU members have consistently raised many concerns about SB 1630. TSEU members in TJJD have argued that the most serious youth felony offenders should be handled in a state operated system of smaller facilities, similar to halfway houses, where outcomes for youths are better and conditions are safer both staff and youth. TSEU members are currently working to ensure that the state not only maintains a system of state-operated facilities to handle those youths that the counties cannot, but also to push TJJD to transition to smaller state-run facilities.
TSEU members from TJJD also have worked hard to win inclusion of JCO’s and Case Managers in the 20-year LECOS retirement fund. This has been a long-term goal for the union. House Bill 1821 by Rep. Roberto Alonzo would add JCO’s to the LECOS plan. And despite calls from union members and TSEU testimony in support of the bill, HB 1821 has been left pending in the House Pensions Committee.

Family Protective Services

High caseloads continues to be a pressing issue in FPS. To address that, TSEU members pushed hard for House Bill 993 by Rep. Armando Walle, which would set caseload standards for FPS employees based on nationally recognized standards. Union members testified in favor of the bill in the House Human Services Committee. Lawmakers are reluctant to pass the bill however, because of the high cost of hiring additional staff in FPS to make the lower caseloads a reality. This remains a critical issue that TSEU not give up on; caseload standards will save lives by allowing FPS workers to do a more thorough job on each case.

Human Services Agencies

Initially, legislators planned to combine all five human services agencies (HHSC, DSHS, DADS, DARS, and DFPS) into one mega-agency under the HHSC Executive Commissioner. The consolidation plan would also give the Commissioner additional power to consolidate and/or privatize state services. TSEU members voiced their opposition to the plan and raised concerns about recent contracting blunders at HHSC including the canceled contract with Geo Group to take over the Terrell State Hospital and the 21CT Scandal. Consolidating HHSC would only make these problems worse. Currently, lawmakers are still planning to consolidate HHSC, DADS, and DARS immediately and fold DFPS and DSHS into HHSC in 2017. TSEU members are still working to stop the consolidation move from happening.

State Supported Living Centers

If it passes, the sunset bill for the Department of Aging and Disability Services (SB 204 by Sen. Chuy Hinojosa) would immediately begin closing down the Austin SSLC and set up a “Realignment Commission” which would choose another five SSLC’s from around the state and recommend them for closure. Closing down SSLC’s would harm not only the dedicated state employees who work in these facilities, but also the residents who make SSLC’s their homes. TSEU stands adamantly opposed to the closure of any SSLC. Union members have been working tirelessly to remove any closure language from the DADS Sunset bill. Currently, SB 204 has passed the Senate and has been referred to the House Human Services Committee.

Justice on the Job

Senate Bill 1678 by Sen. Donald Huffines would give every state worker at-will employment status. At-will employment means that your employer can fire you for any or no reason, they don’t have to tell you what the reason is, and you can’t challenge the termination through a grievance procedure. TSEU worked to make sure this bill was never voted out of committee.