A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Public employees, teachers rally at State Capitol in opposition to public pension reform plan

By Tom Latek
Kentucky Today

Hundreds of public employees and teachers rallied at the State Capitol on Wednesday in opposition to the public pension reform plan revealed by Gov. Matt Bevin and Republican legislative leaders late last month.
Chanting “Find Funding First!” and “We Are Kentucky!”, the crowd braved chilly temperatures and intermittent drizzle to protest the plan.

Mickey McCoy of Inez, a retired teacher and member of the Martin County Board of Education, came to speak his mind and with a promise.

“There a lot of flaws in the bill, and we have to let the people know that if they support this piece of legislation, we will be against them, and dozens of people who agree with us will go town to town and county to county, and will whip them in the elections, so they’re not here again.”

Hundreds of public employees and teachers gathered at the State Capital on Wednesday to protest the pension plan of Gov. Matt Bevin and Republican leadership. (Kentucky Today/Tom Latek)

McCoy, citing employees who have given 20 to 40 years of service, said, “We have to take back our state.  You can’t go messing with people who have given of their lives to state jobs.  I don’t have nothing to lose, but everything.”

Nema Brewer of Lexington, a Fayette County Public Schools employee, was one of the organizers of the event.  “This is one of those things that affects all Kentuckians,” she said.  “I think if you don’t see that, you’re missing the big picture.  This is going to hurt everybody.

“State employees pump $3 billion into this state’s economy.  “To take away money from them right now is money we don’t have.  Unless everybody understands that, we’ve got some issues on our hands.”

Brewer said it shouldn’t come on the back of taxpayers either.

“We don’t want people of this Commonwealth to pay any more in taxes,” she said. 

“We want the state to find new revenue streams.”  Brewer suggested taxes on country club memberships, golf cart rentals, e-cigarettes and medical marijuana.

Katy Hancock, a social worker who developed the Facebook page “United We Stand: KY Government,” said she became involved after the final report was released by the PFM Group, the state’s pension consultant.

“It was so disheartening and so scary and made me angry,” said Hancock.  “I can’t be a social worker until I’m 65.  I’ve already given up so much of my life. I’ve seen things that people should never see and I can’t do this for the rest of my life.”

She and her friends posted messages to each other on Facebook and she decided to start the page and added her friends, who in turn added more friends.  “By the time I woke up the next morning, it had 500 members.  People were mad, they were scared.  It’s time we stand up and say ‘No!’  It’s not OK. Just because we work for the state doesn’t mean we can be treated the way we are right now.”

The Facebook group has grown to about 11,000, she said.

Some House Democrats also attended the rally, including Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook.

“We are behind them,” Adkins said.  “We believe the pension bill is a bad bill for public employees, for teachers, for retirees.  The impact of that, in our opinion, is not good for the future of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

“We believe the bill violates the inviolable contract in many different areas.  Moving teachers into a 401 (k) is going to make it really hard to attract the talented, quality teachers into the field of education.”

Adkins said he believes there’s a better way forward.

“Our plan is keep the pension plan we have and fund it” he said. “Look at the $13 billion of tax loopholes and exemptions, which is two and a half billion more than our entire general fund budget and see if we can just find 10 percent within that.  (Then) $1.3 billion we could put in the pension fund and other areas of state government, like public education.”

Fixing Kentucky’s public pension systems, considered one of the worst-funded in the country, has been a priority for Bevin.  The unfunded liability could be as much as $60 billion.

A draft version of his plan was released last Friday.  Thus far, the Governor has not indicated when he will call lawmakers to Frankfort to act upon the legislation.

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