All across Kentucky, teachers are calling in sick to protest pension cuts forced through Thursday night, closing schools in 26 districts.
“We’ve tried calling, emailing, texting, protesting at the capitol,” Andrea Finley-Least, an elementary school teacher in Fayette County participating in the sick-out, told Grit Post. “We’ve exhausted all other options.”
“[The bill] violates a commitment the state made to us and our families.” she added.
On Thursday afternoon, Rep. John “Bam” Carney (R-Campbellsville) sponsored a 291-page pension bill that was brought up in a secret committee that doesn’t oversee state employee pensions, stuffed into a sewage bill as an amendment in order to get around the now-expired deadline for submitting new legislation, and voted on five minutes later, giving legislators no time to read its contents.
The bill was hotly debated in the House for four hours before passing on a party-line vote. The state senate passed it on a party-line vote late Thursday night, and heads to the desk of Governor Matt Bevin (R), who is expected to sign it. Hundreds of teachers rallied at the state capitol in Frankfort in protest of the bill:
— Tanner Hesterberg (@TannerWKYT) March 30, 2018
Rep. Carney said the bill would save $300 million over the next 30 years, although the Kentucky state employees’ pension fund currently has roughly $41 billion in unfunded liabilities, due to previous administrations borrowing from the fund. The pension cuts themselves were passed with no actuarial analysis studying how much the bill will cost taxpayers vs. how much it will save, which is a violation of state law.
While the bill’s details are still murky, WFPL reported that it would affect pensions for all teachers hired after January 1, 2019, changing their benefits to a cash-only plan. It would also reportedly cap the amount of paid sick leave teachers can accumulate for retirement purposes starting on December 31 of this year. Despite this legislation not including controversial cost of living adjustments that were in a previous pension bill, it would take away a previous four percent guaranteed return on retirement savings for state employees hired after January 1, 2014.
In addition to other cuts, the $5,000 death benefit Kentucky’s pension fund guaranteed for spouses of teachers has been taken away in the new bill, meaning families are now on their own in the event of an unexpected death and its related costs.
“The death benefit cuts break a promise the state made to my wife and kids,” a Floyd County teacher who wished to remain anonymous told Grit Post in a phone interview. “I would tell [Governor] Bevin that, as a family man, he should be ashamed of what this bill does to families.”
Governor Bevin did not return Grit Post’s calls to his cellphone, nor did he respond to text messages requesting comment.
Carl Gibson is a politics contributor for Grit Post. His work has previously been published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, Al-Jazeera America, and NPR, among others. Follow him on Twitter @crgibs or send him an email at carl at gritpost dot com.