People who oppose a bill to overhaul Kentucky’s ailing pension systems are trying to destroy the state, Gov. Matt Bevin said Tuesday.
“Right now, they’re only hearing from the angry people who want to destroy what’s good for this state,” Bevin said of state lawmakers in a radio interview on Talk 104.1 in Bowling Green.
Bevin said lawmakers are hearing many complaints from teachers and public employees who oppose Senate Bill 1 and implored the “silent majority” of Kentucky to speak up and support candidates who will address the pension crisis.
“The system will fail if the KEA gets its wish,” Bevin said of the Kentucky Education Association.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
He also criticized opponents of SB 1 for protesting outside Bowen Tire Co. in Owensboro. State Sen. Joe Bowen, who sponsored the pension bill, is a partner in the business, according to the Legislative Research Commission. Bevin said the action displayed a “thug mentality.”
“How do you possibly make progress with people who either clearly don’t understand what’s being said to them or don’t care?,” Bevin said. “So guys like Joe Bowen, literally has a business he used to own being picketed every week and on weekends by people picketing his businesses and telling people not to shop there and not to go there and to call and harass his employees simply because he’s trying to save the state’s pension system. That’s the kind of thug mentality that’s being dealt with.”
Bevin’s comments come as SB 1 has stalled in the Senate after eight Republicans joined Democrats in opposition to the proposal, which would cut retirement benefits for teachers, among other changes. Last week, Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said it is unlikely the bill will pass before the legislative session ends on April 13.
Bevin has been dedicated to providing full funding for Kentucky’s pension systems, which are among the worst funded in the nation and have an unfunded liability of more than $40 billion, but his comments Tuesday add to a long list of things he’s said to infuriate teachers.
Since he rolled out his initial plan to reform public pensions this fall, Bevin has accused teachers of “hoarding sick days,” suggested the people of Kentucky lack the “sophistication” to understand the pension crisis, and called teachers who opposed the bill “selfish” and “ignorant.”
All of those soundbites have found their way onto signs held by teachers who have been regularly protesting in Frankfort.
On Wednesday, several school districts in Eastern Kentucky closed for the day as their teachers rallied in frigid weather on the Capitol steps.
Among those protesters was Carlotta Abbott, 67, a retired occupational therapist with the Fayette County school system. She was holding a poster that featured a picture of her and Bevin with two speech bubbles: one said “Hand over your benefits.” and the other said “Not Today!”
“You don’t come in here as an outsider then try and diss us in the process,” Abbott said, referring to the fact that Bevin, 51, was raised in New Hampshire before moving to Louisville in 1999.
When asked about his rhetoric toward teachers, Elizabeth Kuhn, the communications director for Bevin, noted that the Republican governor insisted that lawmakers fully fund the pension system in his first state budget in 2016.
“Gov. Bevin is the only Kentucky governor to fully fund the system in over a decade, and he will continue to advocate for a reformed system that ensures retirees will receive their benefits,” Kuhn said.
Many Republican lawmakers have also been critical of Bevin’s comments about teachers. Last week, House Speaker Pro Tempore David Osborne, R-Prospect, called Bevin’s comments “indefensible” and said they have made efforts to reform the pension system more difficult.
It appeared Bevin was trying to tone down his rhetoric when he posted a four minute video on social media Saturday in which he mentioned that he had family members who were teachers. Yet on the day the Senate unveiled a budget bill that would provide the pension system for teachers $598 million less in 2019 than Bevin proposed and $506 million less in 2020, Bevin ratcheted up his rhetoric.