Politics & Government

Bevin likens protesting teachers to disloyal Americans. GOP leader condemns comments.

Gov. Matt Bevin ignited fresh outrage among Kentucky teachers Wednesday after he delivered a tongue-lashing to them for opposing Republican efforts to cut their retirement benefits, stupefying some of his GOP colleagues who called the remarks “inappropriate.”

During an interview Tuesday on WVLC radio in Campbellsville, Bevin called teachers who oppose Senate Bill 1 “selfish” and “ignorant,” comparing them to disloyal Americans who hoarded rationed goods during World War II.

“This would be like people having mass demonstrations about, ‘No I want my butter, I want my sugar, I’m going to keep all my steel and my rubber and my copper, and to heck with the rest of you people, you better keep giving me mine,’” Bevin said.

“That’s what it is, it’s the most remarkable commentary about who we are in modern times,” Bevin said. “It’s just straight up about wanting more than your fair share.”

Wednesday afternoon, Jefferson County Teachers Association President Brent McKim fired back: “We were shocked today by the disrespectful verbal attacks leveled at the teachers of Kentucky by Governor Bevin.”

“It’s true that countless teachers have had the audacity to stand up to our governor and the state legislature to demand the funding our students deserve and the retirement benefits we were promised,” McKim said on Facebook. “We ask our governor to remember he is a role model for Kentucky students too, so he should not be modeling name-calling or the disparaging of any group of our commonwealth’s citizens.”

Bevin’s remarks also were condemned by House Speaker Pro Tempore David Osborne, R-Prospect.

“I have not seen the exact comments of what was said today, I’ve only heard bits and pieces of them, but if they are as I’ve been told, I think they’re inappropriate and I think that they show a lack of understanding of the people who are impacting the lives of our young people in this state,” Osborne said. “He’s not talking about many of the teachers that I know, many of the teachers I still consider friends and many of the people who are still active participants in the education community.”

“For us to lose focus on the fact that we’ve got to do something about this problem is inappropriate, but it is made exponentially more difficult when people make indefensible statements,” he said.

Meanwhile, Senate President Robert Stivers expressed doubt Wednesday that lawmakers will approve controversial changes to the public pension systems during the legislative session that ends April 13, possibly setting up a special legislative session later in the year.

“It has a very limited and difficult path forward at this point in time,” said Stivers, R-Manchester.

Wednesday was the 49th day of the 60-day session.

SB 1 would end traditional pensions for future teachers and cut retired teachers’ cost-of-living allowances, among other cost-saving changes, but it now appears stalled in committee.

Asked what can be done this late in the legislative session to save the bill, Stivers said “not sure.”

Stivers said he understands that “many teachers are unhappy with the rhetoric of the governor” but added that Bevin has been the first governor in a generation to fully fund the state’s pension systems, which face an unfunded liability of more than $40 billion.

Not passing SB 1 would hurt more than state government, Stivers said. Local governments and school districts have many tens of thousands of employees enrolled at the Kentucky Retirement Systems, which is boosting its contribution rates because of the unfunded liabilities. An official on Wednesday with the Kentucky League of Cities said it would be “catastrophic” if Kentucky doesn’t reform its pension systems.

Earlier this week, Senate Republican leaders also sent back to committee Senate Bill 66, which would limit annual pension contribution increases for cities, counties, school districts and others in the County Employees Retirement System to 12 percent a year for at least four years.

Local governments had complained that they faced huge increases — some as high as 70 percent — in how much they would have to pay later this year for their employees’ pensions.

Stivers said Wednesday that the pension bill and the relief bill were linked.

“There have to be some systemic changes,” said Stivers. “You can’t cap something that continues to grow.”

J.D. Chaney, deputy executive director of the Kentucky League of Cities, rejected that argument.

“If Senate Bill 1 and Senate Bill 66 have been tied together, it is a political choice and is not based on legal necessity or sound policy,” Chaney said in an email.

“Phase-in legislation is necessary because of the actions taken this summer by the gubernatorially-controlled Kentucky Retirement Systems Board of Trustees to immediately and dramatically increase assumption rates for County Employee Retirement System,” he said. “Regardless of what happens to SB 1, city governments are urging the General Assembly to intervene and provide some rate relief during this session. It would be unconscionable for the General Assembly to leave Frankfort without addressing this immediate financial need.”