Pawing at teachers’ pensions

To no one’s surprise, Gov. Rick Perry was quick to dismiss challenger Bill White’s allegations that Perry’s administration has been abusing the Teacher Retirement System fund to benefit some of the governor’s major political donors – against the advice of investment experts and at the potential risk to teacher pensions.

No, Rick Perry is not going to acknowledge that he has a payforplay attitude toward state government, even though White’s allegations are backed up by a TRS whistleblower’s memo and follow on the heels of an independent investigation by The Dallas Morning News of taxpayerfunded technology grants given to companies in which other Perry contributors have been involved.

Over the years, Perry also has been caught making major appointments of interest to big contributors either just before or just after receiving large political donations from the same contributors. Just coincidental, or that is always his story.

Now – and also to no one’s surprise – the TRS board has circled the wagons in Perry’s defense. They all are his appointees, after all, and an election is on top of us. Early voting already has started. TRS claimed the allegations raised by White and the whistleblower all were examined last year by an “independent” investigator, who found no problem.

That alleged “independent” investigator, however, was not so independent. He was a former Securities and Exchange commissioner whose law firm has represented clients who might benefit from TRS funding. The state auditor and the attorney general’s office reviewed his report, but it isn’t clear how thorough their reviews were.

Ultimately, the bottom line for educators and retired educators is whether they can trust Perry and his appointees to manage the TRS fund for their maximum benefit, not as a favor to the governor’s friends. Given Perry’s political favoritism and his dismal record on teacher pay and overall education funding, I don’t know why they would.

Teachers are underpaid (34th in the country in average pay), and school districts are struggling with budgetary problems that will worsen if Perry gets to impose the deep spending cuts he has in mind for next year.

Teachers and retirees know how important the TRS fund is. For many, it is their only or main source of retirement income because most Texas teachers don’t get Social Security, thanks to a federal law that needs changing.

Educators can fight that federal law another day. But they can get Perry’s hands off their TRS pensions now.


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