Since I wrote the first president's message a few years back, many events have transpired that have the potential to affect our pension and benefits. Economic and political turmoil defines our national, state, and local governments today. We are seeing public pensions increasingly getting blamed as a primary cause of the declining ability of governments at all levels to adequately fund their cost of operations. Because pension funds in Texas and Houston are better funded than those in other parts of the country, we have for the most part been spared from these allegations.
But that is changing, and efforts are underway by others to "fix" this perceived problem. Apparently led by the Greater Houston Partnership (formerly Chamber of Commerce), an organization has been formed and a Political Action Committee (PAC) created to raise monies to push for a Constitutional Amendment to prohibit defined benefit plans such as our pension plan for all public employees in the State of Texas, and to replace them with 401K type defined contribution plans. This effort is being pushed by Bill King, former Mayor of Kemah and frequent Chronicle contributor of articles critical of Houston's three pension systems; Patrick Oxford, Chairman of Bracewell & Giuliani LLP; and Charles Swanson, Managing Partner, Ernst & Young LLP, along with several others. How this effort would affect current retirees receiving pensions if it succeeds is uncertain, but once this door is opened there is no telling where it will lead.
Got your attention yet? As a result of this movement, the state's large pension systems as well as a number of the smaller ones have formed a 501(C)(4) organization, "Texans for Secure Retirement", to counter this effort. The sole purpose of "Texans for Secure Retirement" is to protect defined benefit plans for public employees. A PAC has also been created to raise the funds necessary to support the effort.
ARHME is joining with "Texans for Secure Retirement" by offering to help in any way we can, including raising funds to contribute to their PAC. We have obtained 501(C)(4) IRS status for ARHME, and are in the process of forming a PAC to allow us to raise funds to support efforts to protect our pension and benefits. More on this later.
Sometimes it seems that just as we begin to make headway on one issue, another pops up. I think most of us just wanted to be left alone to enjoy our earned retirement and not have to worry about health insurance costs or threats to our pension. But so far it hasn't quite worked out that way. The coming months are likely to present us with many new challenges, but nothing that is beyond out collective ability to handle. We all need to start preparing now to do whatever is required to preserve the pension and benefits that we have earned for our many years of hard work and dedication to the citizens of Houston.
Now for some good news. I am pleased to report that our organization is continuing to grow and currently counts over 700 retirees as active members. While this may be good for an organization as young as ours, it is far from what our potential membership could and should be when you consider that this represents less than 10% of the over 8,500 retirees and surviving spouses who are receiving pensions and eligible for membership. We've noted this in the past, but we all must redouble our efforts to grow ARHME's membership. ARHME'S strength and effectiveness to represent retirees' interest in protecting and preserving our pensions and benefits increases as our membership grows. We all have a duty and an obligation to get this message out and encourage other retirees to join with us. Retiree members of ARHME can participate as actively or passively in the organization as they choose, but regardless, all retirees need to join to be part of a unified effort to assure that our pension and benefits are there for us today and continue in the future.
George H. Bravenec
Association of Retired Houston Municipal Employees