Thousand-strong pension rally had a message for legislators
As about 1,000 teachers and public employees rallied Monday outside the Capitol against the controversial public pension bill, the lawmakers inside were deciding what to do with it after last Friday’s setback.
Both Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, and Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said they did not know when the bill would be taken up again in committee. The Senate was set to vote on the measure last Friday but sent it back to committee after it appeared there were not enough votes to pass it.
House Speaker Pro Tempore David Osborne, R-Prospect, said he’s had no conversations with the Senate since Friday about changes they may or may not make to Senate Bill 1.
“What that looks like is yet to be determined, but I still think that it’s the overwhelming sense that there’s a huge problem with the pension system and we need to address it in some way, shape or form,” Osborne said.
As the Senate tries to find a path to pass SB 1, it sent back to committee Monday a bill that would provide relief to local governments and school districts on adjusting to their pension costs.
Senate Bill 66 would limit annual pension contribution increases for cities, counties, school districts and others in the County Employees Retirement System to 12 percent a year.
Local governments had complained that they faced huge increases — some as high as 70 percent — in how much they were to contribute this year for public pensions. SB 66 is designed to give them relief.
Stivers said no one should be cynical and think the Senate recommitted SB 66 to committee to motivate local governments and school districts to put pressure on legislators to pass SB 1.
He said there simply was no use in considering a relief bill until the pension bill passes the chamber.
The largest cost saving in the pension bill would be cutting the cost-of-living adjustments for retired teachers from 1.5 percent to 1 percent until the pension system is 90 percent funded.
Whether that cut addresses the structural problems of the pension system is unclear.
In 1998, teacher cost-of-living adjustments were raised from 1 percent to 1.5 percent. Their contribution rate has not been changed in 20 years, said Osborne.
“I think that it is somewhat structurally unsound to have been raised without addressing whether the pre-funding amount needed to change,” Osborne said. “But I think also clearly it’s a cost saving measure as well.”
The sponsor of SB 1, Sen. Joe Bowen, R-Owensboro, said on the Senate floor Monday that he would like legislators who oppose it to tell him their plan to save the state’s financially strapped public pension systems.
Several Democratic senators took the floor to say they were never offered any opportunity to present their ideas during the drafting of the legislation. Stivers and several other Republicans disputed that.
While the senators discussed the bill, protesters in front of the Capitol displayed their disdain for it.
Josh Trosper, an assistant principal at Knox Central High School, said teachers will have to continue to fight against this bill.
“We've got to fill up this building every day,” Trosper said. “We've got to be loud, we've got to fight back.”
Jessica Page and John Leep, siblings who are both teachers and whose parents were teachers, stood in the crowd with a sign replicating the same one their parents had when they protested over pensions in 1988. Their parents carried a sign that year saying, “Keep Retirement Fund Intact.”
“We're not only fighting for their contract that was promised, but ours as well,” Page said.