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Kentucky Teachers Storm Capitol To Protest Passage Of Pension Bill

Teachers protest pension bill on March 30, 2018.
Teachers protest pension bill on March 30, 2018.

Teachers from around Kentucky descended on Frankfort Friday morning to protest a surprise pension bill that was rushed through the state legislature the day before.

At least 500 people — most of them teachers — crowded the state Capitol building after about two dozen school districts closed for the day.

Sonya Curren, a high school teacher from Scott County, said she was worried about schools being able attract people who want to spend their career teaching.

“It is so hard for educators with their basic salary to do any extra saving or investing outside of what our state provides for them,” Curren said. “New teachers coming in, it does not look like a very viable program to me.”

The plan, which quickly passed out of a committee and both chambers of the legislature on Thursday evening, would no longer offer defined-benefit pensions to newly hired teachers, instead enrolling them in cash-balance plans that rely on stock market growth.

The bill, which received only Republican votes, would also raise the retirement eligibility age for future teachers, and sick days accumulated after Dec. 31 of this year would not count towards retirement benefits for all teachers.

Denise Harrod, a middle school teacher from Lexington, said that lawmakers were unfairly targeting teachers, instead of spreading the pension burden across all taxpayers.

“Maybe we should balance the budget on everybody’s backs. I’m not opposed to paying extra taxes,” Harrod said.

Kentucky has an estimated $41 billion pension liability—the amount of money the state is short to pay in retirement benefits over the next 30 years.

But lawmakers say the new pension bill will only save the state about $300 million over the next 30 years — less than 1 percent of the entire pension debt.

Gov. Bevin Tweeted out his support for the bill on Thursday evening, saying that supporters “voted not to keep kicking the pension problem down the road.”

Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear, a Democrat, said he would sue over the new pension measure if it becomes law, partly because bill sponsors never released an actuarial analysis to show how it would affect the state’s finances.

The Kentucky Education Association said it was planning to hold another rally in Frankfort on Monday, when lawmakers are scheduled to meet for the 58th day of this year’s 60-day legislative session.

Jennifer Napier, a middle school teacher from Louisville, said she hopes lawmakers who supported the pension plan get voted out after the backlash.

“People that maybe were not at the polls a few years ago when Gov. Bevin was elected, I bet you they’ll be there when he’s up for re-election,” Napier said.