House Retirement Hears Controversial TRS Bill

The House Retirement Committee convened for the first time in 2020. The committee considered several pieces of non-education related retirement legislation as well as one Teachers Retirement System of Georgia bill, HB 667 by Rep. Chuck Martin (R-Alpharetta). Martin has long expressed interest in hybridizing the TRS plan, and thus converting it in whole or part from a defined benefit pension plan to a defined contribution plan. Though HB 667 stops short of such a controversial change, its proposed changes to the TRS amortization tables would explode the unfunded liability of the plan, and, according to a fiscal note cited by Martin during his presentation to the committee, cost the state about $300 million annually.

Because the committee chair Rep. Tommy Benton (R-Jefferson) announced at the outset that the committee would not vote on HB 667 today, committee discussion and public comment was brief. PAGE Director of Legislative Services Margaret Ciccarelli expressed deep concerns regarding the legislation at a special meeting of the House Retirement Committee last spring .

Rep. Debbie Buckner (D-Junction City) said of the legislation during committee discussion, “This looks like an expensive micromanagement bill.” Another member asked Martin what would happen if the committee took no action on HB 667. Martin acknowledged that, at a 78 percent funded ratio, TRS is in better financial shape than two thirds of US pension plans. Rep. David Wilkerson (R-Powder Springs) asked Martin if he recommended, in light of a growing state budget crunch, House members prioritize enacting a costly tax cut or implementing HB 667. Martin responded that legislators should decide for themselves, and reiterated that HB 667 reflects his commitment to educators and honoring promises.

Before the committee adjourned, TRS Executive Director Buster Evans reminded committee members that the TRS Board of Trustees has already developed a plan to address unfunded liability over the next 23 years. Evans noted the financial health of TRS and, when pressed by another committee member to express support or opposition to the bill, delicately noted the legislation is likely to “hamstring the state.”