Opinion: A special session should focus on retired state workers

Gov. Greg Abbott says he plans to call multiple special sessions this year so the Legislature can take care of its unfinished business from the regular session.

For more than 120,000 retired state workers, our business has been unfinished since 2001. That was Rick Perry’s first year as governor. It was when Democrats still held a majority in the Texas House. And it was the last time state leaders gave any pension increase to the former state employees who dedicated our careers to making Texas safer, stronger, and healthier.

The star that adorns the ceiling dome inside the rotunda of the Texas State Capitol.
(Photo: Ralph Barrera/AMERICAN-STATESMAN/File)

We are going on 22 years without any cost of living adjustment or extra pension check, while historic global inflation makes it harder to put food on our table and gas in our cars and trucks. Talk about unfinished business!

Gov. Abbott has already called lawmakers back to cut property taxes and deal with border issues. He will likely call them back again to address “school choice,” teacher pay, and K-12 funding. It’s vital that he add fair pensions for retired state workers to the call.

The Legislature still has the money available from Texas’s record $33 billion surplus. Retirees have the needeach and every day. And the governor has a history of putting multiple issues on special session calls, including in 2017 when he asked the Legislature to tackle 19 items in 30 days.

What we need now is the recognition that retired state workers were essential to making Texas great — and deserve better.

Too many people dismiss us as the “bureaucrats” who made Texans fill out forms or wait in long lines. We hear that all the time. But it’s not who we are.

Retired state workers guarded prisons. We built roads. We stocked lakes and blazed trails in parks. We protected vulnerable children and seniors from abuse and neglect. We coerced checks from deadbeat dads.

At the governor’s mansion and Capitol, where our policymakers work, we mowed lawns, cleaned toilets, wrote bill analyses, built websites, and turned the lights on in the morning. And more than 60,000 of us still live right here in Central Texas.

But the average worker who retired in 2001, when the last cost of living adjustment was approved, lives on just $18,000 a year from their state pension. If Social Security can give us a COLA every year (under Biden, under Trump, and under every other president), why can’t the state?

We are sick and tired of always waiting “a few more years” as we watch our friends who are retired teachers get the benefits enhancements they deserve today.

For just $250 million, lawmakers who return for a special session can provide a one-time 13th paycheck to all retired state workers in the coming budget — just like the one that retired teachers will be getting for the third budget cycle in a row.

Two years ago, the state began investing more long-term money in the Employees Retirement System so it doesn’t run out of money in the coming decades. That’s great. But many of our retirees will be long gone by then, and that investment doesn’t help today when costs are skyrocketing.

Retirees like me are already looking ahead to the next elections so we can elect leaders in the 89th Legislature who recognize everything we did to make Texas great and actually fight for our needs.

But Gov. Abbott has said there are still more chapters to be written by the 88th Legislature this summer and fall. We urge him to focus one of those chapters on the business of retired state workers, which has been left unfinished since the beginning of the century.

Elmore lives in Austin and is president of AFSCME Texas Retirees, Chapter 12. He retired from the Texas General Services Commission in 2002 after working 26 years for the state.

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Opinion: A special session should focus on retired state workers