OPINION COLUMNS

House passes bills to give retired teachers relief from rising costs

By Ed Sterling | Published Wednesday, August 9, 2017
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The Texas House on Aug. 1 approved House Bill 20, legislation appropriating $212.7 million from the “rainy day” reserve fund to help defray rising healthcare costs for retired school employees.

Primary authors of HB 20 include: Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin), Drew Darby (R-San Angelo), Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston), John Zerwas (R-Katy), and Donna Howard (D-Austin).

The House also approved HB 80, legislation that through the Teacher Retirement System of Texas would make a one-time cost-of-living adjustment to the retirement benefits paid to certain retirees, disability retirees and survivors. To be eligible for the increase, the annuitant must have retired between Aug. 31, 2004, and Aug. 31, 2015.

Primary authors of HB 80 include: Rep. Darby, Ryan Guillen (D-Rio Grande City), Rene Oliveira (D-Brownsville), and Bobby Guerra (D-McAllen).

Speaker Joe Straus, who presides over the House, applauded the action, saying: “Since the end of the regular session, House members across the state have heard from retirees who are concerned about some significant increases in premiums and deductibles. Based on the feedback we’ve heard back home, the House cast an overwhelming vote (Aug. 1) to help retired teachers who are facing very steep increases in their monthly expenses.”

In other news, the House passed HB 25, which would appropriate $34 million from the state’s $11 billion rainy day fund and $45 million in federal funds for fiscal year 2018, plus another $36 million from the rainy day fund and $48.3 million in federal funds for fiscal year 2019 to the Health and Human Services Commission for Medicaid acute care therapy services.

Primary authors of HB 25 include: Sarah Davis (R-Houston), Walter “Four” Price (R-Amarillo), Rep. Guerra; Rep. Darby; and Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth).

These and all House bills, however, must be approved by the Senate in order to move forward to the governor’s desk for final consideration.

FORMER GOVERNOR DIES

Mark White, who served as governor of Texas from 1983 to 1987, died Aug. 5 at age 77. He was the last living Democrat to have held the post.

White also served as Texas attorney general from 1979 to 1983 and as Texas secretary of state from 1973 to 1977.

Gov. Greg Abbott ordered flags statewide to be lowered to half-staff in honor of White.

“Mark White cared deeply about Texas, and he devoted his life to making our state even better, particularly when it came to educating our children,” Abbott said.

While White served as governor, the Texas Legislature passed the “no-pass, no-play” law affecting secondary school athletes. Lawmakers also passed a tax to fund teacher pay-raises.

Plans are for White’s body to lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda. Burial will be at the state cemetery.

TAX REVENUE INCREASES

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar on Aug. 1 announced state sales tax revenue totaled $2.56 billion in July, 7.9 percent more than in July 2016.

Sales tax receipts from all major economic sectors were up compared to last year, and total sales tax revenue for the three months ending in July 2017 is up 7.3 percent compared to the same period a year ago, Hegar said.

“The most notable increases were from oil- and gas-related industries, as spending on well development continues to rebound. Despite the recent uptick, sales tax revenue remains in line with recent estimates from my office,” he added.

RAILROAD FUNDING ARRIVES

The U.S. Department of Transportation on Aug. 3 announced the Texas Department of Transportation has received a $7 million federal grant to help rebuild the Presidio-Ojinaga, Mexico, International Rail Bridge and 72 miles of track on the state-owned South Orient Rail Line that runs from the border to near Coleman.

Texas Transportation Commission Chairman Tryon Lewis hailed the “FASTLANE” grant as a critical investment in the West Texas oil and gas industry.

“Cross-border trade is the lifeblood of many communities in my district,” said U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (R-San Antonio), whose congressional district includes the affected area. “As one of five border crossings between Texas and Mexico, these repairs are vital to Texas’ economy.”

Ed Sterling is member services director for the Texas Press Association.

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