Day: <span>July 19, 2021</span>

Relief for retired educators a hostage to governor’s efforts to dumb down Texas

Gov. Greg Abbott claims he wants to help retired educators by putting an extra pension check on the special session’s agenda, but he would have more credibility with the education community were he not so intent on dumbing down Texas.

Many retired educators are suffering financially. The average Teacher Retirement System annuitant receives just $2,118 per month, and 31 percent of them receive less than $1,000. Those who retired since 2004 have never had a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to account for inflation. Earlier retirees haven’t had a COLA in eight years.

About 96 percent of public education employees in Texas are not covered by Social Security, making TRS the sole source of retirement income for many.

Despite the great need, though, relieving the financial stress of retired educators is not near the top of Abbott’s priority list. If it were, he would have joined forces with a bipartisan group of legislators who were pushing for an extra pension check or a COLA during the recent regular session and used his bully-pulpit to demand that legislators enact one or the other.

But he didn’t. He didn’t actively advocate for retirees, and he let both a 13th check bill and a COLA bill die in the House. A 13th check will cost about $700 million, and the Legislature had the money. Budget writers left several billion dollars in the Rainy Day Fund at the end of the session.

Abbott now is using the issue as a political ploy during the special session. He tacked the extra check onto the session’s agenda in the hope of peeling off some of the retirees’ votes for his reelection effort next year — assuming they all can still vote if lawmakers enact his first priority, the voter suppression bill.

Aided, abetted and/or goaded by allies such as Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Abbott will keep his political base ginned up over the lie that the voting restrictions are necessary to protect voting “integrity,” when, in truth, he considers the restrictions essential to keeping himself and his fellow dumb-downers in office. They fear the electorate at-large. They don’t want the “wrong” people, the majority of Texans who don’t think like them, to vote.

These dumb-downers are the politicians throughout the country who encourage the anti-vaxxers and ignore the scientists during a pandemic and continue to deny climate change because they are afraid and/or incapable of making the difficult choices necessary to address it.

You think Abbott was inept during the snowpocalypse? Small wonder.

Another one of the governor’s dumb-down priorities also is more important to him than retired teachers during this special session. This is the new anti-education bill to intimidate teachers into downplaying or ignoring the systemic racism that has plagued our country’s history and still impacts our society today. This is more than dumbing down. It is whitewashing.

This proposed law, at least the version advancing in the Senate, is even worse than the similar law Abbott signed at the end of the regular session. It would remove from the earlier law a curriculum requirement that students at least learn that white supremacy is “morally wrong.”

Most of the Democrats in the Texas House fled to Washington, D.C., to keep the House from having the quorum necessary to pass the voting suppression bill. If they don’t return before the session ends in a couple of weeks, other bills, including the 13th check for retired educators, also will die, and Abbott and his allies will blame the Democrats for killing financial relief for retirees. The governor, however, is ultimately to blame because he refused to make the financial plight of retirees an emergency during the regular session and now is holding their relief hostage to legislation to make it more difficult for eligible voters, including retirees, to vote.

Who knows how many more special sessions Abbott may end up calling this year? He plans to call at least one more in the fall for political redistricting. If he truly is committed to helping retirees, he will add the 13th check or, better yet, a COLA to the redistricting session’s agenda — or to the agenda of any other special session he may call. If he really wants to help retirees, he will quit holding them hostage.

Clay Robison