Politics & Government

Matt Bevin signs controversial Kentucky pension bill into law

Here's how big the 'We've had enough' teacher protest was

Drone video shows Kentucky teachers and their supporters gathered at the Capitol in Frankfort Monday, April, 2, 2018, to protest pension changes and support education spending.
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Drone video shows Kentucky teachers and their supporters gathered at the Capitol in Frankfort Monday, April, 2, 2018, to protest pension changes and support education spending.

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin signed into law Tuesday a controversial bill that makes changes to Kentucky’s ailing public pension systems as opponents repeated their pledge to challenge the bill in court.

The move comes a day after the Republican governor said the bill does not do enough to solve the state’s pension problems, which include a more than $40 billion unfunded liability.

“We have not fixed the pension problem,” Bevin said Monday. “We have not. Do not let anyone delude you into thinking that we have now solved the pension problem. We have not.”

Though Bevin was critical of the legislature’s solution, which was introduced and approved by lawmakers on March 29, he has said the bill prevents the pension problem from getting worse and commended the lawmakers who voted for it.

Opponents of the bill, including Attorney General Andy Beshear and the Kentucky Education Association, have said they believe the law violates the state’s non-voidable contract with public employees and plan to challenge it in Franklin Circuit Court.

“We will offer any assistance to stakeholder groups that choose to litigate,” Jim Carroll, spokesman for the pension advocacy group Kentucky Government Retirees, said Tuesday.

Bevin raised the ire of teachers statewide last fall when he proposed a pension overhaul that included deep cuts in benefits for retired, existing and future public employees. The bill lawmakers eventually approved spares retired teachers and makes only one major change for existing teachers.

Senate Bill 151 places teachers hired after Jan. 1, 2019, in a hybrid cash-balance plan at Teachers’ Retirement System of Kentucky rather than a traditional pension and requires them to work longer before becoming eligible for retirement.

Many school districts around the state shut down on March 30 as teachers held “sick-outs,” and thousands of teachers stormed the Capitol April 2, chanting “remember in November.”

Bevin was critical of the Kentucky Education Association again Tuesday, asking why they didn’t rally against former Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear when the General Assembly took money from the state’s pension systems to balance the budget.

“They are absolute frauds, they are not looking out for the best interests of the teachers, they are looking out for the best interest of themselves,” Bevin said on “The Terry Meiners Show” on Louisville’s WHAS-AM radio station Tuesday afternoon.

Bevin said he respects teachers who “go into the classroom and teach the students” but said he does not respect the KEA. “What have they done with all those teachers’ dues except waste them supporting a governor who underfunded them and created this process?” he said.

He claimed he has put more money into the teachers’ pensions in his first three years in office than Beshear did in eight years

KEA spokesman Charles Main said the group probably would have no comment Tuesday night.

Larry Totten, president of Kentucky Public Retirees, said his organization had mixed feelings about the pension bill.

“For us as retirees, it doesn’t make it a lot worse,” Totten said. “But it does go after some of the things we enjoyed while we were working.”

Kentucky Democratic Party chairman Ben Self criticized Bevin’s handling of the pension bill, which was added late in the session to a measure dealing with sewer regulations.

“By signing this pension-sewage bill, Gov. Bevin and the Republican leadership have just dealt a devastating blow to Kentucky’s public education system, public employees, the teaching profession and benefits for first responders,” Self said in an email. “It’s obvious that their priorities are to the mega-donors who paid for their campaigns and not the people of Kentucky.”

Jack Brammer: (502) 227-1198, @BGPolitics

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