Restart pension debate with openness, respect

The Kentucky Supreme Court recently ruled that Senate Bill 151 — the wastewater/pension bill adopted by the General Assembly during the last legislative session — was unconstitutional.

This decision should not be construed as a victory for some and a loss for others. Rather, it should serve as a stark reminder that pension reform must be a transparent process that involves complex issues and multiple stakeholders.

Rhetoric, accusations, and name-calling have been hurled from all sides during the past year, which has made this issue less about reform and more about political tribalism.

Each time an insult is made or a false statement levied, the financial livelihood of thousands of retired teachers — whose pension benefits are often all they have to support themselves and their families — is placed in further jeopardy.

As President Lyndon B. Johnson once said, “Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose.”

As we move into the new year and the 2019 legislative session, it is time for us to learn from our past, calm the rhetoric, and move forward in a constructive manner to deliver meaningful reform that will protect the thousands of retired teachers as promised while preserving Kentucky’s competitiveness on both the national and international level.

The steps needed toward achieving a real solution to this vexing issue and implementing meaningful, long-lasting reform require the following:

▪ All stakeholders must be heard, negotiated with, have the opportunity to testify and ask questions, and given the time to properly evaluate any bill that is brought before the General Assembly.

▪ Name-calling, political tribalism, fabricated charges and false accusations make compromise difficult, if not impossible, and should not be used by any person or party during the upcoming legislative process.

Reform does not have winners or losers; it involves commitment by everyone. While history is an important learning tool, we cannot afford to spend negative energy showering blame on past actions or inaction.

The fact remains that Kentucky’s public pension systems are underfunded and changes must be made to put them on a sustainable path. We now have a second chance to do right by the thousands of public servants in our state who have worked and sacrificed so much to make Kentucky such a special place.

As the president of the Kentucky Retired Teachers Association, and on behalf of our organization and its many members, we pledge to work with all stakeholders in a professional, positive, constructive, bipartisan manner to achieve reasonable and fair pension reform so that thousands of current and future retired teachers can look forward to a secure and dignified retirement.

Shirley Wolf of Somerset is president of the Kentucky Retired Teachers Association.