Taking a vastly different approach than the Texas Senate, the House on Tuesday revealed that it wants to give teachers a $1,000 annual pay raise and relieve rising teacher retiree health care costs by tapping the rainy day fund.
The method of financing a plan to boost teacher pay and cut teacher retiree health costs, which is on Gov. Greg Abbott’s special session agenda for the Legislature, has become a point of contention between both chambers and could derail such bills.
The House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday considered House Bill 24, filed by Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, which would raise minimum salaries for teachers, librarians and counselors in statute as well as give them a $1,000 annual raise starting next school year, to the tune of $848 million over the next two years. The panel also heard HB 20 by Rep. Trent Ashby, R-Lufkin, which would inject $213 million into the Teacher Retirement System of Texas to reduce health insurance premiums, deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses.
Both bills would be paid for through the state’s $10 billion savings account known as the rainy day fund.
“I had rather invest in our teachers, invest in our classrooms and invest in our kids as opposed to leaving it in our mattress,” Darby said. “Let’s put our mattress money where our mouths are.”
Chairwoman of the Senate Finance Committee Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, said on Saturday that using the rainy day fund to pay for a teacher pay and retiree bill was off the table because it was not a permanent solution.
The Senate’s proposed teacher bonus and retiree bill — Senate Bill 19 — is paid for by delaying payments to Medicaid managed care organizations in the upcoming two-year budget cycle to the following biennium.
Eric Hartman with the Texas chapter of the American Federation of Teachers characterized the Senate’s plan as “robbing Peter to pay Paul.”
“This is what a real teacher pay raise looks like,” he said of HB 24.
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According to the state comptroller’s office, the rainy day fund will grow by $1 billion by the end of 2019. Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, said that the bill would use that growth to pay for most of the cost of HB 24 and HB 20, leaving the fund in good shape.
Similar to SB 19, HB 20 would cut in half expected deductibles for teacher retirees under the age of 65 to $1,500 and lower premiums for retirees over 65 and their spouses by $100 to $490, among other reductions. The bills are meant to curb the rising costs that are supposed to go into effect in January after lawmakers made some changes to the plans during the regular legislative session that ended in May.
Lawmakers increased costs to retirees to partially plug a $1 billion funding hole in the retirement system expected for the 2018-2019 biennium, but even with SB 19 or HB 20, the retirement system is expected to see a $500 million to $700 billion funding shortfall in the 2020-2021 biennium.