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It’s time to pay what’s due

September 20, 2023 - 00:00
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We weren’t around for the adoption of the Texas Constitution in 1876 but we ARE here in 2023 to have a say in amending it. With early voting commencing Oct. 23, I’m dedicating today’s column to proposed Amendment No. 9, “The constitutional amendment authorizing the 88th Legislature to provide a cost-ofliving adjustment to certain annuitants of the Teacher Retirement System of Texas.”

Why the focus on No. 9? I’m concerned that the current dissatisfaction with public schools will penalize a group of educators who had nothing to do with what’s currently happening in some school districts across our state and nation. In full disclosure, I have a daughter who teaches. I also have grandchildren who are home-schooled, some who attended a charter school and others who attended, or are presently attending, public schools. I’m well acquainted with all points of view on the public-school dilemma but that doesn’t change the fact that I support No. 9, and here’s why.

First of all, the COLA (cost of living adjustment) will be funded by the surplus in the “rainy day fund.” It’s already earmarked. Our taxes will not be raised if we vote yes. In my opinion, this is on the ballot because the Texas Legislature kicked the can down the road for what…the last 19 years? We have to vote on it now because, at this point, the amount of money involved exceeds the current constitutional limits.

Second, these retired teachers and school staff have not received a COLA since 2004. Let that sink in! Imagine not receiving a salary increase or a Social Security COLA since 2004 and having to pay 2023 prices. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “The dollar had an average inflation rate of 2.59% per year between 2004 and today, producing a cumulative price increase of 62.53%. This means that today’s prices are 1.63 times as high as average prices since 2004.”

To further support this point, I did a little comparison shopping of Texas prices in 2004 and 2023. A loaf of bread was $1.58 compared to $3.00 today, give or take a few pennies depending on the brand. Apples, which cost $1.04 per pound in 2004 now cost $2.48 per pound. Eggs provided cheap protein at $1.34 per dozen in 2004 compared to $3.62 today. Every cooks’ staple, all-purpose ground beef sold for $2.16 per pound compared to $4.99 per pound today. You could go far on a couple of dollars in 2004 when a tank of regular gas was $1.01 per gallon compared to $3-plus per gallon today. And then there are the increases in repairs, utilities and healthcare.

Finally, for those who think approving this amendment rewards the behavior of educators who see nothing wrong with drag queen story hour or who undermine the parent/child relationship with pronouns and secrets – those aren’t the people this legislation addresses. Just to be clear, this legislation is aimed at righting a wrong for generations of teachers who did what they were hired to do – teach.

For Navasota voters, approving this amendment is about doing right by retired educators like Kathy Day, Lillian Wesley, Hollis Hood and Lillian Rushing, to name a few, but every school in Texas has its own cadre of classroom warriors who earned their stripes and this cost-of-living adjustment. They showed up for us and our children, now it’s time we show up for them.

The column represents the thoughts and opinions of Connie Clements. Opinion columns are NOT the opinion of the Navasota Examiner.

Clements is a freelance reporter for the Navasota Examiner and an award-winning columnist.