Teachers and taxpayers secured a major win earlier this month when the Teacher Retirement System of Texas’ board of trustees voted against following through on a planned move that would cost taxpayers millions. Now a state lawmaker says he intends to file legislation to ensure the public is better informed earlier in the process.
At a hearing of the Senate Finance Committee in Austin this week, State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) took to task the bureaucrats at the agency for dragging their feet on providing the public with information on the agency’s “investment” into Indeed Tower and seeking rulings from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to keep much of the information secret.
“Unfortunately, right now we have a system where questions are asked, but the public cannot get answers,” said Bettencourt.
Discussing recent @TRSofTexas office space decisions in Senate Finance Committee. Unfortunately right now we have a system where questions are asked but the public cannot get answers. That must change and I will file legislation to fix in the next #txlege.
— Team Bettencourt (@TeamBettencourt) February 25, 2020
Established in 1937, TRS provides retirement and related benefits for more than 1.6 million Texas teachers, college professors, and other educational employees. It is supported by the State of Texas and manages a $150-billion trust fund established to finance member benefits. TRS is the largest public retirement system in Texas and is the sixth-largest public pension fund in the U.S.
Earlier this month, TRS had signed a 10-year lease for three floors of office space at the Indeed Tower, a highly sought-after location for companies seeking extravagant downtown accommodations near the city’s bar district, for a jaw-dropping rent of $326,000 per month.
Shortly after teachers and taxpayers discovered the egregious planned expenditure, the trustees were forced to reverse the decision and sublease the space instead.
Finding out specifics on the investments held by that trust fund, as Bettencourt notes, has been difficult for teachers, taxpayers, and even the media. Responses to Texas Scorecard’s own requests were delayed, redacted, and difficult.
When the Texas Legislature returns in January 2021, Texans can expect a lot of reforms for TRS not just from Bettencourt, but also Republican State Reps. Brooks Landgraf (Odessa) and Steve Toth (The Woodlands).