Legislature

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Dan McCombs, Legislative Chairman

Dan McCombs, Legislative Chairman

LEGISLATIVE by Dan McCombs 

October – December 2017

ORTA’s efforts have a history of insuring the stability of the STRS system and the current health care system for STRS retirees.   Our new Executive Director, Robin Rayfield, wants us to know about the recent mailing that has been sent to ORTA members regarding a relative new group that promises to protect the pensions of the five public employee pension programs.

First of all, he wants to assure members that ORTA is not affiliated with the organization called Protect Ohio’s Pensions, nor does ORTA anticipate a partnership with this group.  Robin states clearly that ORTA has been and will continue to be the voice for STRS pension beneficiary recipients.

ORTA’s focus is on protecting the pension system of ORTA members only. In service to you, the members, ORTA attends all STRS meetings, provides testimony, and continues to be a strong voice for thousands of STRS retirees. Of great importance is our commitment to keep the defined benefits system in place and fight against the defined contribution system proposed by many lawmakers here in Ohio and across the country.

The decision to join an additional organization that will duplicate what we do will be counterproductive.  Robin urges all of us to work on expanding ORTA membership.  If each ORTA member would convince just one new member each to join ORTA, our voice and strength would be doubled.  Let us not divide the membership on this issue.  Let us get behind our new Executive Director and GO ORTA.

August – September 2017

It was a real pleasure to visit recently with Pat Bateman at Twin Lakes shelter for a memorial for her son and husband.  Many area educators were in attendance to honor them.  We are so fortunate to have Pat step up to the plate by serving as our interim leader until a new director can be found.  ORTA must have ongoing leadership during this scary political time.  We need a strong presence in Columbus to protect our pensions.  Pat has the experience and background to do just that.

The latest STRS Bulletin gives us some sorely needed good news.  The Retirement Board approved health care premiums that will show no premium increases for approximately 80% of enrollees. Also a new study shows that we have high investment returns with low investment costs compared to other retirement systems.

Keep your phones ready to contact our senators and representatives to express our concerns about the federal health care bills which are changing on a daily if not hourly basis.  See you in the fall.

July – August 2017

As most of you are aware, the STRS Ohio will be putting the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) on hold for at least five years.  They will revisit the COLA at that time, but I would not hold my breath for a favorable outcome then.  Remember the 13th check that many of us still have fond memories of?  We must keep our position of supporting defined benefits on the front burner with our elected representatives.  Nothing is more important to current and future retirees than this item.  Even if you believe that our current representatives support our position, we must continue to keep them apprised of our feelings.

We need to keep pounding the need to get non-members to sign up with PCRTA to permit us to have a viable positive impact on future legislation that could negatively or positively affect our pension and our future.  Remember the old saying that all politics are local  We have to depend on each other locally, before we can accomplish anything state-wide.  Stay tuned, it is just the beginning. All of us need to help get new members.

April – May 2017

I can’t believe it is already Spring.  It seems that the election season occurred many months ago.  Day after day we see new headlines about what is or isn’t happening in Washington.  It truly makes me wonder where we will be as a country over the next few years.  We must get America to put party politics aside and do what is best for the country.

STRS reports that the Ohio Legislature passed Amended Substitute H.B.520.  The bill included a measure that will allow benefits to be paid to a surviving child – regardless of their status in school – until age 22.  It is interesting to note that The Ohio Retirement Study Council did not meet in January or February.  The Council is made up of three members of the House, three members of the Senate and three gubernatorial appointees.  The chairmanship of the council will reside in the House during the current General Assembly.  The chair will be Senator Bill Beagle (R-Tipp City).

So far the language of the Kasich  budget does not appear that STRS Ohio is directly affected.  STRS will continue to monitor what is going on and will provide updates to us.

Here is hoping that things settle down, and we get through a very contentious future of Health Care.

 

January – March 2017

I have been having a very difficult time putting down my thoughts for this newsletter.  There is no question that elections have consequences!

However, while I usually accept results, the actions I have observed from the White House, and President Trump in particular, give me great pause in what actions need to be undertaken.  We do live in the world’s greatest democracy, and protest demonstrations are a valid form of expression.

I have many questions that need to be answered.  First of all, why would the President nominate Betsy DeVos to be our next Secretary of Education? She has no background in public education, did not attend public schools and did not send her children to public schools.  She has spent a great deal of time trying, and in many cases succeeding, in attacking public education in Michigan.  She is a champion of vouchers and charter schools.  I am fearful of her being at the helm of public education in this country.

We need to let Senators Portman and Brown know of our opposition.  At the same time, we need to contact Representative Tim Ryan with our

October – December 2016

Where did the summer go?  As I inch along on bleeding knuckles at glacial speed, I watch the legislature and the Federal Government continue to amaze and confound me. I can’t wait for this fall’s elections to be over.  I hope we will be able to pick up the pieces no matter what the results are.
Carol Kinsey, our District Director, has sent me a lot of information to share with you.

First of all for 2017, members who are not yet of Medicare age are going to see significant increases in premiums.  For Medicare recipients, Aetna will be increased from $117 to $127 per month.  If you have Aultcare, the premium will increase $50 per month to $225.  Also the phase out of the Medicare subsidy is set to begin.

If you are a member of STRS that carries his or her health care coverage through STRS, you should expect a letter from Express Scripts.  In 2017, Express Scripts is going to a preferred provider plan.  You can still go to any pharmacy of choice, but if that pharmacy is not on the preferred provider list, you will be charged $10 more per prescription than if you used one of the approved ones.  So far CVS and Walgreens are not on the preferred list.

Remember, STRS is mandated to pay our pensions, but not health care..  The only money that is now going into the Health Care Fund is from investment earnings.  The money for health care will not last long.

A calendar has been laid out for the upcoming year showing the timeline and process leading up to a March decision regarding how health care will look long term and what will be implemented beginning in 2019.  That will give you a two year window to know what will or will not be available through STRS and allow you time to plan accordingly. Consider attending one of the regional STRS Health Care Update meetings which will take place in October and November.  You can find the list of locations on the STRS website and register there or call STRS.

This is only the tip of the iceberg in what promises to be an interesting legislative future. Stay Tuned!!!

 

LEGISLATIVE by Dan McCombs  August- September 2016

I want to take the time to express my sincere congratulations to PCRTA as we celebrate our 50th anniversary.  I can never thank ORTA and PCRTA enough for staying on top of pension reforms and supporting our ability to keep receiving those monthly retirement checks.  I am also grateful that we were able to reinstate our COLA for this year.  These kind of actions do not occur without many hours of dedication from our members.

This fact alone gives us enough reason to join our professional organizations at the state and local levels.  Where would we be today without the vigilant eyes of these great professional groups?  I am also thankful that you always respond to our call to contact our local and national legislators during times of concern  by phone, e-mails and letters.  Without these combined efforts, we would not be where we are today.

While I am at it, I want to thank all of our officers for their time energy and effort on our behalf.  Think seriously about getting involved in this much needed effort by running for an office or at least helping by serving on a committee as a volunteer.  It would be greatly appreciated and would help put people in the pipeline for future roles in PCRTA.

Have a great rest of the summer and get ready for an exciting Presidential race.  I can hardly wait for it to be over

LEGISTATIVE NEWS by Dan McCombs

 

ORTA is currently looking to replace Carol Kinsey as our State Legislative

Even though we cannot be involved, as an organization, in endorsing candidates for political office, we can screen candidates for membership on the STRS Board.  This is critical for us since the Board has a huge impact on our pensions, healthcare and the legislature. Pensions are mandated by the state but the Legislature can make changes to our pension system anytime they can get enough votes to pass whatever bill they choose.  Remember how important DEFINED BENEFITS are to us.

Carol Kinsey recently resigned from this position and will be missed by our membership.  She leaves us with several concerns that we must continue to address.  One of the most important ones is the creation of an ORTA Legislative Day at the Statehouse in late April/early May, 2017.  2017 will be a state budget year and items are often inserted that have nothing to do with the budget, but have a great deal to do with impacting retirees.  We need to be fully involved in this critical process.  This will help ORTA and all our members to maintain ongoing relationships with our local legislators.  We all must be willing to keep in contact with them especially when we are not asking for their support.

April 2016 Legislative Report

By Dan McCombs

 

STRS was active on the legislative scene when the Ohio Government Relations staff attended the National Council on Teacher Retirement conference in Washington.  The purpose was to use this opportunity to meet with staff members from several of the Ohio congressional delegation offices.

The focus of the Hill visits was to voice STRS Ohio’s concerns regarding Sen. Orrin Hatch’s (R-NV) Secure Annuities for Employees (SAFE) Retirement Act and the Public Employee Transparency Act (PEPTA), sponsored in the past by Congressman Devin Nunes (R-CA).

As I informed you earlier provisions from both the SAFE Act and PEPTA were included as part of the relief package for Puerto Rico.  That bill did not move, but STRS states that Congress may be considering legislation this spring to once again aide Puerto Rico.

In addition, Rep. Nunes is expected to reintroduce PEPTA.  STRS is requesting that no Ohio delegation members co-sponsor this legislation, as they did not in past sessions.  As ORTA also agrees, STRS Ohio shared the system’s opposition to mandatory Social Security coverage.  This issue does not appear to be on anyone’s agenda currently, but we need to remain vigilant.

We probably won’t see a lot of legislative action until after the election this fall. It has been very interesting to follow the Supreme Court cases with the current void created by the death of Justice Scalia, the leading conservative member of the Supreme Court.  Hang on to your hats as this promises to be an exciting election.

February 2016 Legislative Report

ByDan McCombs

I am really eager to hear from the new Executive Director of ORTA, Dr. John Cavanaugh, about his vision for us in the near future.  We also want to extend our appreciation to Ann Hanning for her years of service to our organization.  She did a terrific job lobbying the legislature.

I was reminded once again how important ORTA is to our pension’s future when I received my yearly statement from STRS. Without our local support and lobbying for all retirees’ benefits along with ORTA, we could lose our defined contribution status.  I thank all of you that continue to respond to our requests for e-mails, letters and personal phone calls to our legislative representatives.  Other than expanding our membership, nothing is more important for members of PCRTA to be involved with when called on by our leadership.

I don’t know if I’m alone, but I am not sure how much more of the election season I can take.  Regardless which party you belong to, I am concerned for the future of our country.  We really need a person that will be a uniter and not a divider as President.  So far I have not seen that person. Let’s hope our country can overcome the acrimony in this election.

In closing, how about the horrible public relations for schools that appeared recently in the newspapers.  Giving letter grades to schools based on test results for 3rd graders, without taking into account the socioeconomic background of the students or even how long they were residents of the school district puts an impossible burden on the administration to explain these meaningless grades to local residents.  I am sure that this will lead to more teaching to the test than real education and learning.

October 2015 Legislative Report

by Dan McCombs

 

Carol Kinsey, our state legislative chair, wants me to share an alert from Ann Hanning, our current Executive Director.  This issue is most likely going to impact many of us beginning January 1, 2016.  There will be an official announcement from Social Security sometime in October regarding the final stance on this issue.

If you are receiving STRS only (or any other pension that is not Social Security), as of now it looks like we could be hit hard with a premium increase for Medicare B.  Depending on which STRS Health Care Insurance you have, you may also notice a premium increase which could potentially add up to a total health care increase that is greater than your COLA.  This has the result of eating away at your pension even though the actual total pension amount is not impacted.  It is my understanding that Aetna Medicare Advantage is going up $10 per month and Aultcare will also see quite a jump in premium, as it did last year.  The estimated premium hike (Medicare B) would be on a base of $104.90 to $159.30 for impacted beneficiaries.  This move will certainly impact most of us – how about you?

ORTA will be scheduling lobbying visits with Ohio Congress persons in Washington and will share any critical information when they return.

If you are concerned about the future of Charter Schools in Ohio, you should be.  On September 15th, the Ohio Supreme Court made a decision in the White Hat case.  The upshot of the decision is that property purchased by White Hat with public funds now belongs to White Hat.  Justice O’Neill’s dissent from opinion and judgement stated,  “I would hold that a contract that vests title to public property purchased with public funds in a private entity violates public policy and is unenforceable as a matter of law.  To do anything else rewards failure and encourages its repetition in the future in the name of profit.”   In my opinion, it is a shame that a majority of the other justices did not share this view.

August 2015 Legislative Report

by Dan McCombs

 

Carol Kinsey, ORTA’s State Legislature Chairperson, has sent me important updates on what is happening at the state level in regards to our pensions. She is concerned that there is a push at both the state and federal levels to move to a DEFINED Contribution Plan as opposed to our current DEFINED benefit pension plan. The new term that is being used is A DEFINED BENEFIT ALTERNATIVE. This appears to be a more palatable term to use a synonym for a DC plan. The reality is that it is either a defined benefit plan, or it is not. An alternative means it is not a defined benefit plan. It is Carol’s opinion that all members must be informed of its possible implications.

Carol also wants to thank all of you that lobbied the legislature regarding the provisions in the proposed Ohio Budget Bill. She recognizes the importance and value of persistent and consistent lobbying of our legislators. That is why it is so critical to have ongoing working relationships with our legislators so that when we need them most, they already know who we are and what our concerns are. There is truly power in unity and numbers.

A final concern she shared is what is going to be in the final version of the budget bill regarding the exemption of some of the charter school teachers from contributing to the STRS retirement fund. If this occurs, there is great potential for future shortcomings for our retirement system. While this is really a small step, it most assuredly has the potential to do much greater damage in the future.

I want to thank Carol for her efforts on our behalf and hope you realize that her latest update and lobbying efforts show the importance of our organizations and our involvement.

 

04-15-15

LEGISLATIVE NEWS  by Dan McCombs

Ann Hanning, our ORTA Executive Director, has been keeping the membership current on happenings with the STRS ad hoc committee established to study the organization’s funding policy.  Ann has learned that STRS would consider addressing inflation, should it occur in the future, by reviewing the COLA and other pension levers.

At the same meeting, Scott DiMauro (Healthcare & Pension Advocates) expressed the desire to see the 1% employer contribution returned to the Health Care Stabilization Fund as soon as possible to insure the sustainability of the program.
In January, Senate President Keith Faber named Senate members to serve on the Ohio Retirement Study Council.  They are Senators Bill Beagle (R-Tipp City), who is chairing the Council, Jay Hottinger (R-Newark) and Edna Brown (D-Toledo). The House appointees are Kirk Schuring (R-Canton), Dan Ramos (D-Lorain) and Ron Amstutz (R-Wooster).  Keep these names in mind if we need to contact them in the future.
Finally, we need to pay close attention to the provisions of the segment of the State Budget Bill H.B.64 and Senate Bill 3 that contain language that would allow high-performing school districts, as defined in the legislation, to employ teachers who hold a permit issued by the Ohio Department of Education.  H.B.64 would explicitly exempt these teachers from STRS coverage.  In other words, these individuals would not be licensed by ODE, and, since STRS Ohio membership is tied to licensure, they would not be covered by the system.  Stay tuned!!!

NEWS FROM ORTA

Ann Hanning had a solo appointment with Senator Scott Oelslager on 3/18/15. They discussed concerns about charter schools and their impact school districts and on STRS   contributions.   Charter school teachers do pay into STRS.  Although they pay at the same rate, it is generally on a lower salary amount.

They also talked about term limits and the need to continually re-educate legislators about retiree concerns.   They talked about the pension systems and the need to continue a healthcare program for retirees.

  1. The House Ways and Means Committee heard testimony last week from Rep Ron Gerberry (D-Austintown) on HB 43.  Part of this bill would restore the application of the 10% and 2.5 % property tax rollbacks to school levies.   Good news for many seniors.   Information on current Ohio legislation can be viewed at www.legislature.ohio.gov.
  2. The Ohio House Education Committee held a hearing on HB 2 on community (charter) school accountability.  The committee heard testimony and accepted some changes in the bill.   Many charter school related items in HB 43 (the budget bill) have been shifted to HB 2.
  1. ORTA will soon write a letter to Rep. Jim Renacci (R-Wadsworth) requesting his support for HR 711.   HR 711 is the “Brady” bill to change the formula for the WEP which reduces social security benefits for those persons receiving a public pension. Rep Renacci serves on the Congressional House Ways and Means Committee, Social Security subcommittee.     This bill has little traction at this time.    Ann and others will be in DC in September 2015 at an NRTA advocacy conference and will be visiting Rep. Renacci and other legislators at that time.

02-01-15

Legislature:  by Dan McCombs

Welcome to a new legislative year.  As you are aware, January begins a new legislative session.  All legislative proposals must be reintroduced to be considered all over again at both the federal and state levels.

The Ohio Retired Teachers Association has updated our 2015 Legislative Guidelines.  First of all, ORTA wants to continue positive working relationships with legislators to secure support for retiree issues.  They pledge to continue supporting the five Ohio Public Pension Systems as separate entities.

ORTA will continue to oppose any efforts to borrow funds from the pension systems.  They will also continue to oppose legislative mandates of investments and divestments on behalf of the retirement systems.  The last legislative guideline says that ORTA will support bills that would provide state income tax exemption for public pensions.  ORTA also pledges to continue participating as a member of the Health Care and Pension Advocates for STRS.

Financially, they will continue to support the continued funding of the STRS Health Care Stabilization Fund.  ORTA’s Legislative Committee will also monitor and be prepared to participate in state and national health care discussions for all active and retired educators to enable them to maintain access to affordable health care.

One guideline of significant interest to most of us is their commitment to maintain a COLA for retirees.  This list is but a small taste of the comprehensive guidelines adopted by ORTA.  Space prevents me from listing the other guidelines; perhaps we will be able to cover the rest in a future newsletter.  Rest assured that our organization is working non-stop for our benefit.

10-01-14

Legislature:  by Dan McCombs

Well, here we go again.  What happened to the summer months?  I have not figured out a way to slow down Old Man Time.  Each year seems to go faster and faster.  I hope all of you see the need to get involved in the upcoming election.  Even if you aren’t actively involved, I hope that you at least take the time to vote.  Every year it appears that elections are becoming more critical to retired teachers.  Protecting our hard-earned pensions and collective bargaining status will continue to drive our membership.

Current teachers are faced with an overwhelming desire on the part of elected officials to tell them what to teach, when to teach and how to teach.  I am sure that many of you join me in a desire to bring the welfare of students back to the forefront of the state’s educational goals.

On a brighter note, as a person who signed an irrevocable waiver several years ago to drop my STRS medical coverage and switch to my wife’s PERS insurance, I can now return to STRS since they have recently eliminated this waiver.  In either case, the coverage of spouses will undergo a lot of changes in the upcoming years for both STRS and PERSONALLY!  Keep the faith and best wishes for a new school year. Dan

08-01-2014

Legislature:  by Dan McCombs

I have been requested by the Portage County Board of Elections to ask any retired educator who is a registered voter and lives in Portage County, if they would be interested in serving as a booth worker in this fall’s election.  While this is a paid stipend ($100, plus $25 for the training), it would be necessary to attend a workshop at the Board of Elections office in Ravenna to be able to work.  It will be a long day since the polls are open from 6:30 A.M. till 7:30 P.M.  If you have an interest in doing this much-needed activity, please contact Tara Morris at 330-297-3513 or Sue Mascio at 330-297-3512.  Tell them I sent you and that you are interested in working.

While we are on the subject of elections, Dave Gynn asked me to open up our meeting with the House of Representatives candidates scheduled at the Kent Free Library on October 13 at 11:00 to potential State Board of Education members.  This is a great suggestion, and I will follow up on notifying them.  Since the deadline for filing is August 6, I won’t notify them until then. The meeting will be in the upstairs large meeting room.

The current candidates for the 76th House District are Kathleen Clyde (Dem), Kenneth Hendrickson,Jr. (Rep) and Nick Skeriotis (Rep).  For the 76th House District, candidates are Sarah LaTourette (Rep), Linda J. O’Brien (Write-in/Rep), and Joseph Lanese (Dem).

If you have the time, please notify U.S. Representative Tim Ryan that you are opposed to any legislation that will make Social Security mandatory.  His responses to some of our members have been very weak.

This fall looks to be an exciting time for us as former educators.  I look forward to your comments and suggestions as the political process unwinds.

Dan

 

06-15-2014

Legislature:  by Dan McCombs

 

It comes as no surprise that GPO/WEP isn’t going to see the light of day in the Federal Congress.  It looks to be too expensive to implement.  Many former co-sponsors didn’t sign on this year.  We are still hearing rumors that the Feds are still discussing putting all new education hires into Social Security. Stay alert on this issue and be ready to react with our representatives.

I know you get tired of hearing me say that we need to expand our membership, but for us to be a viable political force that can exert political pressure, we need to increase our paid up ranks.  It is all of our responsibilities.

Thanks to all of you that take the time to communicate with our senators and representatives when I ask you to.  I was pleased to see the response to having another meet the candidates meeting this fall. I hope you have a great summer.  Dan

04-01-2014 Legislature:  by Dan McCombs

While the past few months at the state level have been relatively quiet on the legislative front, except for the ongoing budget saga, the federal scene has gotten very interesting.

It is time to get our trusty e-mails and phone calls ready for Tim Ryan, Rob Portman, and Sherrod Brown. It looks as though the federal government is considering implementing mandatory social security to newly hired state and local government employees.

The latest issue of the ORTA Quarterly has a comprehensive article regarding this and several other options for reducing the deficit.  The only positive move coming out of Washington is the annual attempt to get rid of the unfair GPO and WEP rules that unfairly prevent persons with state pensions from collecting what they earned from social security.

It appears that we will never lose the need to keep our legislators’ feet to the fire when it comes to protecting our pensions.  This really underscores our mission to push membership so we can have clout with our representatives and senators.  Let them know how you feel about these issues.  Dan

August – September 

2012 Look at Changes in the Budget Bill – Promises Forgotten

How long before we get a budget bill from Columbus that will make retired teachers happy?  Bruce Hodges, the ORTA Legislative Chairperson shared the following tidbits from the latest budget bill.  Knowledge of the bill will enable us to better prepare for our futures.  We must continue lobbying and voting for people who respect our positions on legislation.

The K-12 funding portion of the bill was increased in conference committee.  However, even with these additional resources, the budget is approximately $515 million short of restoring the $1.8 billion in reductions that school districts experienced as a result of the last budget cycle.

Another major setback in the budget is the expansion of vouchers.  This proposal expands vouchers statewide even in the highest performing school districts. About 2,000 vouchers are funded for the 2013-2014 school year with the amount doubling in the following year. The budget bill also included a section on teacher evaluation where student growth will make up 50% of a teacher’s evaluation. HB59 contains many changes to tax policy that will provide approximately a $2.6 billion tax cut over the next three years predominately for the benefit of higher income Ohioans.  This will reduce the available revenues used to fund vital state supported programs.  The top 1 percent ($335,000 and over) on average will get tax cuts of more than $6,000 a year and the bottom fifth of Ohioans will pay $12 more per year.

Finally, the new law limits the application of the 12.5% property tax rollback by not applying the rollback to newly voted/new or replacement levies that become effective in or after tax year 2014.  Earlier passed levies will still be subject to the rollback.  This will make levy passage much more difficult.  We need to remember that the legislature promised the rollback when they passed the state income tax!!!

How times change and how soon we forget promises. Remember how important our membership continues to be in letting our representatives know we represent a lot of retirees.  Keep up the good work and continue to contact our representatives with our opinions.

June-July 2012 

One Step Forward,Two steps back:  Avoid Federal Intervention

Here I was hoping for a relaxed summer after three long years of fighting the STRS Pension battles.  Dave Gynn sent me information regarding the Public Employees Pension Transparency Act (known as PEPTA).  Devin Nunes, a Republican Representative of California and others introduced this legislation on April 18, 2013.

Currently state pension systems have rigorous regulations and accounting standards in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles. PEPTA creates a worrisome precedent regarding Federal regulation of state and local governments and taxation of their bonds.  It does this by mandating a costly and complex layer of Federal reporting on top of what is already required.

The legislation also requires state and locals to report as though they are invested only in U.S. Treasuries, not the diversified portfolios actually in use.  This will create a false picture of the true condition of public pension plans and mislead taxpayers, frighten investors, and confuse policymakers. Also, PEPTA does not lower taxpayer costs as suggested, nor does it increase transparency and understanding of pension systems.

Ohio has made positive changes in our pension system over the past few years.  We don’t need Federal intervention. It has also come to my attention recently that the Congress is revisiting the takeover of our retirement systems and potentially placing them under Social Security.

Please join me in letting our Representatives and Senators know that we are totally opposed to these two measures.  I guess we will never be able to relax our vigilance when it comes to watching our leaders in our nation’s Capitol. I will keep you posted regarding any changes in the two above-mentioned pieces of legislation.

April-June 2012 

Legislative Report:  Should Ohio Be a “Right to Work State?”

I want to alert you to the direction the legislature is taking on a very important issue for unions. It appears that the legislature is looking at a proposal to make Ohio a “Right to Work” state. This means that private unions in our state will lose their ability to mandate that employees in union shops or industries pay dues or have to belong to the union. This will have a significant impact on unions having the ability to help finance election campaigns like the other Political Action Committees do.

Let your representatives know that you strongly oppose such legislation. We need to keep a level playing field for elections. At its March meeting the STRS Retirement Board approved the following revisions to the organization’s mission, vision and guiding principals as follows:

Guiding Principles:

1. Make decisions that produce the greatest sustainable benefits for our members.

2. Attract, develop and retain highly competent and motivated associates who have authority commensurate with their responsibilities.

3. Continually improve through research, development, evaluation and risk management.

4. Build an organizational culture that inspires a high level of professionalism and performance.

Strategic Goals:

1. Implement STRS Ohio pension legislation into business rules and systems.

2. Develop options for the Health Care Fund that supports the STRS Ohio Health Care Program.

3. Ensure a level of quality service to STRS Ohio members.

4. Attract, develop and retain a high quality STRS Ohio workforce.

5. Refine the STRS Ohio Defined Contribution and Combined Plans to maintain a quality retirement for members. 6. Improve overall investment performance within acceptable risk parameters as set forth in the STRS Ohio Statement of Investment Objectives and Policy.

November-December

2012 Our Pensions are Solvent – Thanks to your effort!

After three long years of being involved in the future of our pension system, we can now announce that the Governor has signed into law a bill that will keep our STRS pensions solvent for the next thirty years. I want to thank the members of the legislature for adopting a bi-partisan approach to this much needed legislation. My fears that a defined contribution plan would replace our current defined benefits plan were not realized.  This will probably become the most important part of a bill in the future.

There are so many people to thank for this outcome, including the leadership of STRS, ORTA and the other state pension systems.  Our own David Gynn deserves a real thanks for his behind-the-scenes work.  What a great leader he has been for ORTA and the retirees in Portage County. I wish that all retired teachers could see the tangible results of membership.

We cannot ease our vigilance on the legislature by sitting back and letting others do our job. Get your friends to join PCRTA and ORTA so we can continue to let our representatives in Columbus know that we represent a large constituency and expect their support regardless of political affiliation.  Finally, let me personally thank each of you who took the time to contact our representatives to let them know our feelings aboutthe importance of our pensions.

August-September 2012 

Legislative Report: Seek Out for Your Pension System’s Solvency

I hope your summer has been as eventful and fun as mine has.  We really know that the legislature should be well rested for their fall session leading up to the election. It is time to let our representatives know how we feel about our pension system and ask them to support the STRS effort to make it more solvent.

I had the pleasure to visit with a husband and wife from New Jersey last week and was amazed to find out that Ohio’s pension systems for teachers and police are in a lot better shape than theirs.  The husband is a retired policeman and his wife is a retired elementary school teacher.  What the governor of New Jersey and many of the municipalities have done to balance their budgets, is to borrow money from the retirement systems and to not have any plans to pay them back.

I hope Ohio doesn’t follow this example! We need to keep on top of our representatives and make our feelings heard.  Sooner is better than later. 

Also, as I have preached many times to you, THE CHOIR, we need more members to be an effective lobbying organization representing retired teacher interests.  Get out and shake the bushes to get your non-involved friends to join our tremendous organization. All of us must be unofficial members of the membership committee. I hope to see all of you this fall with a renewed sense of enthusiasm for the task at hand!

June-July 2012 Legislative Report:  ORTA Supports STRS Pension Reform Positions

Hope you are having a relaxed summer before the hectic political campaigns inundate the airwaves.  Even though it is a long time until the November Presidential election, I am already tired of the negative political banter found on all stations all the time.

My major concern this year is that many people will not even vote in the upcoming election. Too many are getting turned off by the negative campaigning.  It still appears that the Ohio House of Representatives will not address our pension concerns until after the fall election. This delay in action on their part is costing the retirement systems millions of dollars in uncollected employee contributions.

Please note that ORTA has supported the position of STRS regarding pension reform so we can continue to enjoy a stable and beneficial retirement. Even though it probably will result in a lowering of the COLA (Cost Of Living Adjustment) and larger employee contributions, it makes sense over the long run.

Please join me in letting our Portage County House members know where we stand on the STRS proposal.  Have a great Summer and get ready to cast your ballot in the Fall.

 April – May 2011 Legislative Report:  Our Country Needs Your Involvement! 

The most critical issue facing us in the upcoming political year is what will happen to our pensions.  As you probably recall, the STRS pension reform proposal from 2011 no longer meets the 30-year funding period required by the Ohio Legislature. At its March 22, 2012 meeting, the Retirement Board discussed several revisions aimed at meeting the 30-year amortization goal.

Among these changes being considered will be a potential cap on the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) that is paid in retirement, and/or a one year COLA suspension. Staff was also asked to consider ways to smooth the transition to new retirement eligibility rules that will include a longer teaching career and an age requirement to qualify for retirement. STRS says that additional considerations will include member contribution phase-in, age and service eligibility and giving the board authority to adjust the plan in the future.

Plan design changes has been presented to the STRS Board in April.  The staff is also to meet with the Healthcare and Pension Advocates (ORTA is a member) to provide feedback on their proposals. I don’t know about you, but I am getting increasingly frustrated with the negative direction the Presidential Primaries are  taking. 

With the unleashing of huge amounts of money from the Super Pacs, I can only surmise how nasty the fall election will be. Many people are becoming so discouraged that they will not even vote.  Even in Portage County, we had a small turnout in the Primary Election.  Can you imagine what will happen in the Fall? Please get involved in the process regardless of your party affiliation.  Our country needs your involvement.  Don’t let the few determine the future for the many!

January – March 2011 Watching and Waiting

Well, l here we go again, the start of a new legislative year.  Although this is a Presidential Election Year, we don’t expect to see a great deal of legislation coming from Columbus until after the Fall election.

The Republican House Caucus recently laid out its top priorities for the coming months, including workforce development programs; Jobs Ohio ll legislation; Bureau of Workers’ Compensation  reforms; and another review process for K-12 education reform. 

Rep. Ron Amstutz (R-Wooster) said he plans to launch a new round of conversations on education reform, including public hearings on how to fund and reform K-12 education in Ohio. This should prove to be very interesting and we will follow this very closely. 

Pension reform is also going to be looked at by the caucus, however they are waiting on the Ohio Retirement Study Council’s advice on the reform recommendations laid out by the five pension systems prior to taking any legislative action.

The legislature is currently looking at prohibiting school districts from opening prior to Labor Day (Sub. HB191).  Also, Sub.HB 191 seeks to convert the minimum number of school days required in the school calendar to a minimum number of hours instead.  The number of days per week would not change, but the number of hours per day could. Don’t forget to stay ready to react when you are needed.  Have a great year!!  

November-December 2011  We Must Keep Our Defined Benefit Plan

Now that all the legwork has been done to assure a vote on the possible repeal of Senate Bill 5, our next important task is to see that our friends and members get out the vote this November.  I can’t recall in the distant past a more critical reason to get to the polls.  If this doesn’t energize the   electorate, then nothing will. I have been informed recently that the state legislature will not pass a pension reform bill  during this session.  It appears that they will delay action until the lame duck session next year.

We cannot lose sight of this major legislation.  As retirees we must maintain our Defined Benefits system.  There will be a huge effort to change this to a Defined Contribution plan.  As we have discussed earlier, this has the potential to change our pensions from a plan that provides lifetime benefits we won’t outlive, to a plan that is similar to a 401-K style defined contribution plan.

Ohio’s public pensions are not currently in a crisis and have not asked for state or federal  bailouts.  STRS reports that a 2008 National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS) report found that a Defined Benefit Pension can deliver the same retirement income at almost half the cost as a Defined  Contribution plan. Remember, unlike many states, Ohio’s public school pensions are funded by employee  contributions and board of education contributions.  Seventy-five percent of the retirement costs are paid by interest on investments by the STRS. We are truly blessed with the current system and should be willing to whatever is required to maintain it. 

It is not too early to let our representatives know how we feel.  We must get involved before it is too late.

Volunteer to fight SB5 in Portage County! 

Volunteers are need to make phone calls or go door-to-door.  Contact Brad Cromes at 330-501-9960 or bcromes@weareohio.com

September-October 2011  Pension Legislation on Hold

The Ohio Retirement Study Council Chairman, Senator Keith Faber (Rep-Celina) has put any pension legislation on hold until next year.  He had stated that he would hold public hearings this August, September and October around the state to get public input on proposals to strengthen the financial condition of the five pension systems.

If these ORSC meetings take place, we need to be present to voice our support for the STRS position to insure the long term solvency of our pension system.  Our concern stems from the distinct possibility that persons will be there that will push for the Defined Contribution Plan that is in opposition to our current Defined Benefit Plan that most of us support.  We need to be alert to what is happening even if the legislation is put off until next year.

On a positive note, I am really pleased to announce that the referendum vote on SB5 will in fact be placed on the ballot where a “yes” vote will mean that you approve of keeping it, and a “no” vote will be a rejection of SB5.  Jon Husted, the Secretary of State for Ohio has       listened to the public and has agreed to the verbiage that we believed was the clearest way to present it on the ballot.  Don’t hesitate to thank him for this very important move.                                           

Thanks from WE are Ohio

On behalf of We Are Ohio, the bipartisan, citizen-driven, community-based effort to repeal SB5, I would like to thank PCRTA for your help in circulating petitions against this unfair attack on Ohio teachers, and ask for your help in continuing the fight. Together we gathered nearly 1.3 million signatures statewide – more than five times the number needed to reach the ballot.

The numbers in Portage County are even more impressive. With over 14,000 signatures gathered, we surpassed our goal nearly ten times over-and an unheard of 85% of those signatures were valid!  Still, much work remains to educate voters about the bill and the need to repeal it.

By just talking to your neighbors in person or on the phone, writing a letter to the editor, or putting a sign in your yard, you can do a lot to help make sure this bad law never goes into effect. We’ll have phone banks and “walk and talk” events every week, so there are plenty of opportunities to get involved.   Thanks again, and we look forward to sending a message by defending Ohio’s teachers with you this November! If you can help, please contact We Are Ohio Field Organizer Brad Cromes at 330-501-9960 or bcromes@weareohio.com. Brad Cromes

June-July 2011  

In Numbers, There Is Strength!  Let Your Voice Be Heard!  

Thanks to all of you that took the time to contact our legislators regarding both SB5 and the budget bill. At the current time, the 12% employee and 12% employer split has been removed from the senate version of the budget bill. How long it will stay out is anyone’s guess. We need to keep the pressure on them until the bill finally passes.

Hopefully you have had a chance to sign the SB5 referendum petition. Remember, this only means that the issue will be placed on the ballot this fall for us to vote it up or down. This attempt to restrict collective bargaining for the public sector has far-reaching consequences for current and future retirees. The 129th General Assembly has been moving bills at a very fast pace. You can track them at www.lsc.state.oh.us.

Remember that Teach for America educator licensure has already been passed and signed by the governor. This permits inner-city and rural districts to hire non-certified teachers at the expense of certified ones.

Finally, we want to keep a close eye on SB3 and HB69 known as the pension reform bills. Keep up the good work and get others envolved in our membership campaign. Remember…in numbers, there is strength!

April-May 2011  Legislative Chair: It’s time to speak Up!

Thank goodness for the Internet.  I have been in North Carolina for the past six weeks, but I have not missed any news.  My subscription to the Record Courier has kept me current.  I am sorry to say that the news doesn’t look any better down here in North Carolina than it does to you in Portage County.

This is not a good time to be a public employee in Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana or New Jersey.  Fights over collective bargaining and public pensions have dominated the news. I, for one, never thought when I became a teacher back in 1961 that people would be jealous over my pension…especially when my friends in the private sector were making considerably more money than I was. I stayed in a relatively low paying occupation because I loved the job and the security that came with it. 

Please believe me when I say that the battle over keeping our Defined Benefits Pension is worth fighting for.  We must defend this position with our every fiber!  If the legislature changes our retirement to a Defined Contribution Plan, our profession will lose one of its most significant features.  We CANNOT let that happen!

Dave Gynn and I attended a very important ORTA Legislative Committee meeting in Columbus on April 19.  We are developing a strategy to combat what is happening in the legislature.  I also will report what ORTA’s take is on collective bargaining (SB5) at our luncheon.

As an organization, the Portage County Retired Teachers Association has a full plate.  It will take all of us to have a positive impact.  Please join us in sending messages  to our elected officials by phone, e-mail or letter that we need their support during this unprecedented attack on teachers’ rights.

January-March 2011  Legislative Chair Reports on Pension Changes

This has been a very hectic new year as far as our current pension system is concerned.  Dave Gynn, Ron Snowberger and I attended a   meeting at the STRS headquarters on February 15 to meet with the Pension Champions Committee. This committee will address what our position will be in regards to the upcoming legislation dealing with our pension reforms. The pension bill (HB69) was introduced by Representative Wachtmann (R-Napoleon). There has also been some discussion of it at the Health and Aging Committee on February 2.

Rumor has it that  the committee will address each pension system separately-ie. the age for retirement, final  average salary, and the COLA for all sytems.   To keep current, you can access the bill on the state web site:  http://www.legislature.state.oh.us/.

The governor has made it clear that Boards of Education will not have an increase in their employee retirement compensation.  Only employees will be expected to have their rates increased. Also, the Ohio Senate has addressed the issue of Defined Benefits through the introduction of SB3, Senator Faber (R-Celina).  In the past Faber has favored Defined Contributions. 

 Hang on to your seats. We hope to be able to provide you with an update at our next regular meeting.Keep your powder dry and be prepared to contact your representatives when we call on you!!!

Candidate’s Luncheon at Bellaria’s on October 7th!

Todd McKenny, Dan Combs, Moderator, and Steven Dyer, of District 44

Todd McKenny, Dan Combs, Moderator, and Steven Dyer, of District 44

Over 30 PCRTA members attended.  The group had many questions and concerns for the candidates for the Ohio State Representative.

 

 

 

November-December 2010 

How Will Election Changes Affect Retired Teachers?

By the time of our next luncheon meeting, the election results will be in.  I don’t possess a   crystal ball, but I suspect it wasn’t a very good election for the Democrats. What will a change in state government mean to retired teachers and their pensions? Our biggest worry will be how the lame duck legislature and the new legislature after the first of the year decide to handle the looming 8 billion dollar expected state deficit.

We need to remain on our toes and ready to act if they decide to tap into our hard-earned pension reserves. Even if the government says it will pay back any borrowed monies, we must vigorously oppose that potential action. Based on what STRS is telling us, it appears that any action will wait until the next session to start in January of 2011.

I want to thank all of the members who took the time to meet with the candidates for the House of Representatives at Belleria’s on October 7th.  It is always good to let our  representatives know how we feel about issues that affect us. I hope that we can continue this type of endeavor in the future.  It is a win for both the candidates and us. Your president Dave and I will be attending the ORTA Fall Conference in October.  I hope to share a more updated response to our medical insurance position at the November meeting.

September-October 2010 

Who Will Represent Us in the Ohio House of Representatives?

It is that time of year again.  We need to talk to our potential representatives before this crucial election vote takes place in November. We have scheduled a Meet the Candidates Luncheon for the Ohio House of Representatives candidates from Portage County on October 7th. I will be asking you to sign up to attend at our next general meeting in September.  I hope we can get at least 30 volunteers to attend and listen to what these candidates have to say.

I want you to come prepared to ask questions about their positions on the upcoming 8 billion dollar state budget deficit and what it might mean to our pension system.  This will be a great opportunity for us to get to know the candidates on a very personable level. Remember, no one is going to protect our pensions but ourselves!!! If we don’t take time to ask tough questions to these potential representatives, we only have ourselves to blame for their actions.

The cost for the meal including an excellent salad bar and a personal pizza is only $5 plus tax and tip.  Hope to see many of you volunteer to come. The reason we are meeting so early, is because of the large number of absentee  voters in our organization.  We want you to hear the candidates before you cast your  ballot. Mark Your Calendars Now!

June-August 2010 

We Need to Keep Our Defined Benefit Pension System

We need to be ready to respond to the current financial shortfall in our State budget.  The  latest figure I have been hearing passed around Columbus is that we are facing an 8 billion dollar deficit for next year. Since the State cannot operate with a deficit, cuts will be in June-July 2009.

Just a quick note to inform you that according to Jim Miller,STRS Federal Consultant, the Government Pension Offset Bill will not be addressed this year.  The chairman of the committee, John Tanner, of Tennessee, (a Blue Dog Democrat) and ranking member, Sam Johnson of Texas are not supportive.  There would be an 80 billion dollar cost for this program over a ten-year period.  This bill has been introduced each year since 1987 without passage.

Jim Miller was one of our speakers at the Spring ORTA conference in Columbus.  He tells us that a Health Care Reform Bill is on a fast track due to Senator Kennedy’s own poor health.  Kennedy wants this bill passed as part of his legacy.  There are plans to have the bill on the floor for discussion as early as July.  It will only need 51 votes in the Senate for passage due to its fast track status.

Questions yet to be determined are:

      1.  Who will have access?

2.  What will be the cost?

3.  What will be mandated?

4.  Will it be a public or private plan (or a combination of the two)? and finally…

5.  What will be the implications for STRS?

Did you know that an STRS retiree gets benefits for an average of 26 years after retirement?  Employee contributions pay for 3 years, while Board of Education contributions pay for 6 years.  The rest of the time is paid for by investment income. Finally, Jim tells us that Social Security reform will not happen this year, but  Medicare reform might.

On a scary note, as the funds of these agencies become depleted, the Federal Government will be looking for new ways to fund them.  This means that mandatory coverage of all teachers will probably be back on the table. Have a happy summer.

April-May 2009

Please take the time to contact US House Representative Tim Ryan and ask him to support the Social Security Fairness Act of 2009 (House Bill #235).  Senator Sherrod Brown is a co-sponsor of the US Senate companion bill #484.  This legislation asks for the repeal of GPO and WEP. GPO reduces or eliminates Social Security spousal and survivor’s benefits for retirees who collect pensions that were not covered by the STRS program.  WEP slashes social Security retirement benefits for individuals who are eligible for them in addition to pensions from non-STRS-covered jobs.

The latest ORTA quarterly (Spring, 2009) contains a sample letter that can be sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and to  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.  We are still waiting for word on the new version of H.B.315 and will hopefully be able to address its status in the next newsletter.

Remember, the Health Care Advocates are still working with STRS toward long-term fiduciary planning.  There is nothing more important for our retired teachers’ organization to keep on top of.

January-March 2009

I’m sorry to report that HB315 did not pass legislative muster this past session.  We will look forward to a new bill being introduced during the next legislative session.

The upcoming year will find ORTA working on new guidelines for 2009. I will be reporting regarding the future on the following topics:  health care; school funding; charter schools; rehired retirees; STRS pensions; communications and REO-PAC (Political Action Committee); and  Social Security.

We certainly have a full plate and with the problems facing our economy, we need to stay on top of the direction the legislature is headed.  We need all of our membership to be involved in this critical endeavor. Stay informed and be willing to get involved.  It is your organization and your future. Check the ORTA website, www.orta.org, for up-to-the-day information on current legislation; or go to www.PCRTA.net and link to the ORTA site.

January-March 2009

I’m sorry to report that HB315 did not pass legislative muster this past session.  We will look forward to a new bill being introduced during the next legislative session.

The upcoming year will find ORTA working on new guidelines for 2009. I will be reporting regarding the future on the following topics:  health care; school funding; charter schools; rehired retirees; STRS pensions; communications and REO-PAC (Political Action Committee); and  Social Security.

We certainly have a full plate and with the problems facing our economy, we need to stay on top of the direction the legislature is headed.  We need all of our membership to be involved in this critical endeavor. Stay informed and be willing to get involved.  It is your organization and your future. Check the ORTA website, www.orta.org, for up-to-the-day information on current legislation; or go to www.PCRTA.net and link to the ORTA site.