Sunday, February 20, 2011

Fw: Legislative Update, February 8, 2011




Legislative Update: 2/8/2011


Due to a variety of technical issues last week we were unable to send you our weekly Legislative Update. Here is last week's update, we will be sending out this week's update tomorrow as regularly scheduled.  

Thank you for your patience.


In this issue:

TSEU Mini Lobby Days: Parole

The Senate Hears from the Public

Impact of HB 1 on Group Health Insurance Benefits

Legislators are saying the only option is to cut services, but do they really mean it?

TSEU's plan to Fight Back against the Cuts

Rep. Villarreal's Petition

Get involved/Stay in the loop


TSEU Mini Lobby Days: Parole

Throughout the legislative session, TSEU members are going to the capitol in caucus groups to lobby for our most important interests – the work we do, the services we provide, and the resources we need to serve the people of Texas.


Last Wednesday, February 2, union activists in TDCJ/Parole Division from all over Texas came to Austin to meet with their legislators at the capitol. They asked lawmakers to stop the cuts and layoffs currently being discussed by the legislature. Bad weather throughout the state prevented many activists from being able to make the journey to Austin, but despite the weather, Armando Ramos (El Paso), James Nauls (Angleton IPO- Retired), Monica Roque (Galveston), Janie Medrano-Arispe (McAllen), Glen Llanez (Midland), and Donna Comeaux (Beaumont) participated. In all, members met with 11 legislators and their staffers about the cuts and made a strong case about the need for more Parole staff, not less. In addition, members discussed plans for building a strong Lobby Day on April 6th, getting out the vote for Bob Stewart's ERS Board campaign, and talking to local and county government officials about joining TSEU's fight against the brutal budget cuts.


For more information about the TDCJ/Parole Division Caucus, contact Seth Hutchinson at


Below is a schedule of the upcoming Lobby Days. Please get in touch with your organizer or the caucus chair and get involved! We need your voice now more than ever. And everyone should be at the big statewide Lobby Day on April 6th!

February 9th        Universities and Health Science Centers

February 16th     State Supported Living Centers and State Hospitals (old MHMR)               

February 23rd     Health and Human Services and DADS Long Term Care (old DHS)

March 2nd            Family and Protective Services

March 9th             Department of State Health Services

March 16th           Texas Youth Commission

March 23rd          Retiree's Organizing Committee (Retirees from the state and universities)

April 6th                 TSEU Statewide Lobby Day, be there!


The Senate Hears from the Public

The Senate Finance Committee, the committee that is responsible for making the important decisions on every aspect of the budget, heard from parents, advocates, and concerned citizens from across the state last week. After agency heads from Health and Human Services Commission finished testifying about the cuts, hundreds of people lined up to testify against Senate Bill 1. Many parents gave heart felt testimony about how they would affect their children if implemented. One woman brought her two small children up to show how the importance of early childhood intervention (ECI) programs through DARS had helped her children. Both were early pre-term births that needed extensive therapy that was provided through this state-run service. Without the state ECI services, which are on the block for huge funding cuts, her family would not have been able to cover the out-of-pocket costs for this much needed therapy.


Advocates for the elderly and mentally ill urged committee members to consider other options to deal with the budget shortfall. Some testified that the cuts would mean certain death for those who are in nursing homes that will be closed if this budget passes. Doctors and other medical professionals warned the committee that any further cuts in provider rates would cause more doctors to drop out of Medicaid, CHIP, and other federally funded match programs.


Last week's huge turn out and emotional testimony made it clear that the budget cuts will affect everyone. Whether it's the middle class mother of two who was denied coverage for her children's treatment or the elderly woman who was afraid of being kicked out of her nursing home, one thing for sure is that the poor are not the only people on state services. Lots of middle class families filled the committee room last week asking legislators to take a balanced approach to balancing the budget. 



Impact of HB 1 on Group Health Insurance Benefits

According to ERS's analysis, HB 1 baseline appropriation of $2.49 billion is $591 million less than required in the Group Benefits Program. Without additional funds for cost increases, rising utilization, higher prices, or health care reform, significant changes to the plan will be needed. The current level of health insurance benefits will have to be reduced by 19% at the HB 1 baseline level of funding.


In order to operate at the baseline funding level (HB 1) there will need to be a reduction in the state's contribution for health care coverage.

Current employer contribution of 100% of the member only retiree premium would decrease to 80%. This could create a new monthly premium of about $95.53 for member-only coverage.

The employer contribution for dependent coverage would decrease from the current 50% of premium to 40% of premium. This could increase the cost of coverage for member and family about $135.82.


Secondly, restructuring the plan as a high deductible health insurance plan (HAS) with one of the two options:


A. $2,400 deductible with the plan paying 80% after the deductible is met. In addition to the deductible, each participant would pay $2,000 in coinsurance before the plan started paying 100%. The member's total out-of-pocket liability would be $4,400 for single coverage, and $11,900 for family coverage.


B. $3,400 deductible with the plan paying 100% after the deducible is met. The member's total out-of-pocket liability would be $3,400 for single coverage, and $11,900 for family coverage.


If a high-deductible plan was implemented, a tax-advantaged health savings account (HSA) could be made available to employees and retirees up to age 65. Single members could contribute $3,050 per year to an HSA and families could contribute $6,150 per year to an HSA. Unspent balances could be rolled forward at the end of the plan year.


If all five of the proposed LBB options were implemented (that we laid out in previous updates), the estimate savings would be $444 million, which is $ 147 million shy of the $591 million shortfall.


LBB recommendations:

Reduce the state contribution for health insurance to 90%

Implement a tobacco user surcharge on health insurance premiums

Implement a tiered coinsurance plan for state employees

Establish a pill-splitting program

Implement a tiered contribution plan for state retirees, based on years of state service


However, all of these recommendations would be disastrous for state employees. A cut to benefits without an increase in pay is a cut in pay.



Legislators are saying the only option is to cut services, but do they really mean it?

Now that the potential impact from the cuts is hitting home some are quietly looking for ways to keep their districts untouched. Many counties and cities heavily depend on revenue from the state. Lawmakers who represent big state facilities or groups of public employees will be hard pressed to explain to their constituents why the biggest employer in their area no longer exists or why the school district had to close two elementary schools.   Most legislators understand that protecting their districts is the number one priority.


Factions have begun to form in the legislature as members see how the cuts affect their districts. One faction wants to use the Rainy Day Fund and look at fixing the business tax, also known as the franchise tax, in order to raise more revenue. The other group believes they were elected by large margins in November because the people wanted less government this session. As the process gets underway in the house the tension between the groups will become more and more visible. This could be an opportunity for TSEU and other advocate groups to pressure and form relationships with lawmakers who understand the dangers of an all-cuts approach to the budget. The most effective way to pressure politicians is in their districts. History has shown us that lawmakers respond to issues when they know their constituents care about a particular issue.  Join TSEU's statewide mobilization against the budget cuts by organizing co-workers, coming to lobby day, and contacting your local government.



TSEU's plan to Fight Back against the Cuts – We need your help!

State services are under attack. All budget proposals slash deep cuts into the fabric of Texas. The budget cuts mean thousands of Texans will be out of work, schools will be more crowded, our streets less safe, and millions of us who are having a hard enough time in the economy will be left without even the most basic of resources.


TSEU is fighting back! We are fighting back with a massive statewide strategy to demand a better Texas. We can and must do better. And you are a part of this solution. We are going to need the efforts and the energy of ALL TSEU members, their friends, and their families to turn this state around.


First, we must have an all-out push for organizing. Our number one problem as state workers is not the budget, it is not the pay, it isn't even the work load. Our number one problem is that we are not organized. And without an organization we will never be able to fully defend and fight for what is right in this state. Organizing is not just the work of paid staff, is the work of all union members to ask their coworkers, families, and friends to join the union and put their money where their mouth is.


Secondly, we must have a full on mobilization to call our legislators. Politicians are by their nature political and should and will be responsive to pressure from their constituents. We need to be calling our legislators and asking them to oppose the cuts, find revenue, use the Rainy Day Fund, and support a balanced approach to writing this budget. Each of us needs to make that call and to get our friends and families to call as well. To find your legislators go to


As a companion to the call-in campaign, we are currently undertaking a statewide post card campaign to "STOP THE CUTS!" Contact your organizer to get a stack of post cards. If you don't already know your organizer, go to the link below for a full list of TSEU organizers and staff.


We need to take this message to our local governments. When the state cuts funding for programs often the burden falls to counties and cities to make up the difference. Local governments are often even less able to pay for these programs. Go to your city council, council members, county commissioners, commissioners' court, and school boards and ask them to pass resolutions and write letters in support of state services and against the budget cuts. We are currently working on packets with county impacts of the cuts. Get in touch with TSEU and your organizer to help.


Finally, we are helping to build a statewide coalition of organizations who are standing up for a better Texas. If you are a member of a church, synagogue, civic group, PTA, or any organization that believes that we need a more balanced approach to our state budget, please ask them to join TexasForward (



Rep. Villarreal's Petition

State representative Mike Villarreal (D- San Antonio), has a petition addressed to Gov. Perry supporting "a comprehensive review of our state's tax system, focused on creating a revenue stream that keeps pace with the growing needs of the Texas economy. We must eliminate wasteful tax loopholes that cost our state billions.  And finally, we must consider tapping the state's Rainy Day Fund in combination with developing a plan to put the state on sound fiscal ground beyond this current budget."

You can read and sign the petition here:


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For information about contacting your state legislators, go to the TSEU website

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