The campaign of David Poythress, Democratic candidate for Governor of Georgia in 2010, released the following letter today from General Poythress to the members of the Teachers Retirement System of Georgia Board, urging them to reject a proposal that would eliminate cost of living adjustments for retired teachers.
The full text of the letter is below:
The proposal before the TRS Board to eliminate the cost of living adjustment (COLA) in the retirement pay of Georgia teachers is a very bad idea and should be rejected by the Board for the following reasons:
First, there is absolutely no good reason for making such a change. Those supporting the idea merely assert that the Board should change its longstanding policy simply for the sake of uniformity with “all other Boards,” and slyly insinuate that the change would position the Board to increase the COLA in later years. This is nonsense. Each of the state retirement plans is different, and each demands independent governance and policy guidance by an independent Board – otherwise there would be no need for a separate Board to oversee the TRS.
In particular, there is no good reason relating to the financial health of the TRS fund for making such a change. By all accounts the TRS fund is exceptionally strong and actuarially sound. By law the fund cannot be used for anything other than to pay teachers the retirement benefits they earned during their careers, and nobody has even suggested that the fund is going to run out of money now or in the future.
Second, to eliminate the COLA would simply be unfair to current teachers as well as retired teachers. The Board’s current policy has been in place since 1969. Over the years,
the actuaries who computed the amount of annual contributions to the system – the individual teacher’s share, taken from that teacher’s monthly paycheck, and the state share, as approved annually by the General Assembly – undoubtedly did so with reference to the Board’s longstanding COLA policy. Stated differently, the COLA policy has been part of the employment package of all teachers in the TRS since 1969. Both sides of the employment relationship (teachers and the State) understood and agreed to it; teachers made career and retirement plans based on it; and to change it now would be plainly and simply unfair.
Finally, the Board’s decision on this matter will send a profound message to teachers now serving, and to those who may be considering a teaching career in Georgia. Teacher recruitment and retention is a major problem in Georgia and throughout the country. If the Georgia TRS Board is seen as having acted unfairly – as having snatched the rug from under its own retirees – what effects will it have on the career plans of teachers now serving, and how confident will a prospective teacher be about a career as a Georgia educator? Undoubtedly and quite reasonably they would wonder how much credence they could place in any of the Board’s policies, and what action the Board might take years from now that would upset their own carefully managed career and retirement plans.
With no sound reason to support the elimination of COLA in the retirement pay of Georgia teachers, the TRS Board should decline to change its longstanding policy, and should reaffirm its commitment to fair and just treatment of the retired and serving teachers of Georgia.
Lieutenant General (Ret.) David Poythress is the immediate past Commander of the Georgia National Guard. He previously served as the Secretary of State and the Commissioner of Labor and is a Democratic candidate for Governor of Georgia in 2010.
Trevor Southerland is on staff with the Poythress for Governor campaign.