Gov. Matt Bevin continues to lash out against opponents of his plan to change Kentucky’s public pension systems and has offered $1,000 to anyone who can prove Bevin ever said teachers hoard sick days to boost their retirement benefits.
In an interview with Jobe Publishing that was published Wednesday in the Butler County Banner-Republican in Morgantown and other newspapers, the Republican governor called critics of his plan “sowers of dissent, discord, and division on purpose because it serves their own purpose.”
The interview was conducted last week. In it, Bevin also accused the Herald-Leader of making up news about him. “The Herald-Leader — they make stuff up. And then everybody says, ‘it was in the Herald-Leader — it must be true,’” Bevin told Jobe Publishing.
Concerning his hoarding comment, Bevin told the newspaper chain that “I wish you’d publish on the front page of your newspaper that I will pay $1,000 in cash, in person with photo opportunities along with it, in front of live television if they are so inclined, to any person that can ever find any evidence — audio, video or otherwise — that I have ever said that teachers hoard sick days. I’ve never said it.
“All these people who say they’ve seen it and heard have never actually seen it and heard it. They’ve heard or seen that other people say it was said. Never was it said and nobody has any corroboration of that.”
At issue is a comment made by Bevin during an interview with Lee Cruse of WVLK-AM radio in Lexington.
Cruse asked Bevin to detail some of his ideas to accomplish the “herculean task” of overhauling the pension systems and Bevin responded with several “questions we have to ask ourselves.”
“Should people be allowed to hoard sick days, which nobody ever seems to take,” Bevin asked. “They manage to be healthy, with rare exceptions. They get 12 sick days a year and they hoard those up for 10, 20 years and then they roll that into the final year and pretend it was income in the last year to spike their salary up because your salary in retirement is based on what your last salary was in your last years of employment. Is that a type of game we should allow people to pay, play?”
Though Bevin did not use the word teacher in his comment, other newly hired state workers have already been stopped from using sick days to boost their pension payments.
As The Associated Press reported in an Aug. 25 story about Bevin’s appearance on WVLK, “sick days mostly impact teachers.”
“State workers hired after 2013 don’t get credit for unused sick days,” the news agency reported. “But Kentucky teachers can be paid 30 percent of their salaries for each unused sick day when they retire. The money is then added to their final salary, which is used to calculate the size of their retirement checks. Teachers hired after 2008 are limited to 300 unused sick days.”
When asked about the recording Wednesday afternoon, a spokeswoman for Bevin accused the Herald-Leader of misrepresenting Bevin’s comments.
“Anyone can plainly hear that he never accused teachers of hoarding sick days,” Amanda Stamper said in a written statement.
Stamper said Bevin “has a deep appreciation for educators” and is “fighting to save the state’s broken pension systems so that all public servants can count on a secure retirement.”
In his interview with Jobe Publishing, Bevin also took issue with a Herald-Leader article that reported Bevin said opponents of his pension plan lack the sophistication to know what’s at stake.
“If you go back and read the actual quote, the headline was a lie but that’s what they (the media) do,” Bevin said. “It’s sensational. Then everyone simply repeats the lie and don’t repeat the actual quote. They’ll bury the actual quote about two-thirds of the way through the article. No one reads two-thirds into the article.”
In a story published Oct. 30, the Herald-Leader quoted Bevin speaking to Lexington business leaders about opposition to his pension plan. “The fact of the matter is, this is not good for Kentucky. The people who do not have the sophistication to understand what’s at stake, but will bear the brunt of it, are the ones that are going to suffer if people like us who get it, who are willing to fight for it, don’t step up.”
That quote came after Bevin attacked Tom Shelton, executive director of the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents, saying “shame on him” and accusing Shelton of opposing the governor’s pension plan “for his own selfish personal reasons.”
Bevin, though, said the Herald-Leader erred by saying his comment was about opponents of his pension plan. Instead, Bevin said he was “speaking about Kentucky.”
“What I said is this affects all Kentucky and it is those that are most affected who don’t have the sophistication to appreciate the danger they are in. If those of us who do understand it don’t step up and save the system on their behalf, then shame on us,” Bevin told Jobe Publishing. “The actual quote is speaking about Kentucky. It is entirely true. Your average person in Kentucky — 90 percent of taxpayers are going to pay for this; less than 10 percent of the people are getting a pension from the state. That is who is in trouble.
“Your average person on the street does not have the financial sophistication at all. Does this mean they’re dumb, no. Does it mean they’re uneducated on anything, of course not. Does it mean they’re unsophisticated about financial matters? Of course, it does. Anyone who would say otherwise is lying. People don’t get it. Our job is to make the hard decisions on their behalf.”
Herald-Leader Editor Peter Baniak said the newspaper stands behind its work.
“We take accuracy very seriously,” Baniak said. “Our readers are a sophisticated group. I have great faith that they can read what we’ve published, listen to the audio and reach their own conclusions.”
Bevin also took aim at Shelton again in his interview with Jobe Publishing, as well as the Kentucky Education Association.
“I’ve personally had meetings for hours with the KEA and they will come out and lie and say they had no input,” Bevin said. “It’s a 100 percent lie.”