Lawmakers greeted with boos and cheers on pension proposal

PADUCAH, KY – Many of you are asking lawmakers to keep their promise and fund your pension.

The president of the Kentucky Professional Firefighters says he saw the largest town hall for pension reform in the state Tuesday night in Paducah. The event, hosted by the McCracken County and Paducah Education Associations, brought hundreds of state employees, mostly teachers, to the West Kentucky Community and Technical College.

Democratic State Rep. Gerald Watkins, who represents District 1, wants the pension system to stay the way it is. He says he doesn’t think public employees should be responsible for “bailing themselves out.”

Watkins and Democratic state Rep. Will Coursey, who represents District 6, were both highly favored by the crowd of educations and school employees. Coursey, too, is against the governor’s proposed changes to the pension system. Coursey believes democrats were left from the discussion and thinks the legislature should revisit ways to save money. Those cost-savings approaches include visiting tax exemptions and state contracts. Coursey also told the group he doesn’t see an immediate threat to retirement payments.

Republican State Sen. Danny Carroll, who represents District 2, thinks changes need to be made to keep the next generation from dealing with the crisis.

Crystal Culp, a Kentucky teacher, made one last plea to lawmakers. “Teachers come to work even on days they just don’t feel like it, not just because they want to ‘hoard their sick days’ or ‘game the system,’” she said. Then, she posed this question: “Why should pension reform come before tax reform, which is the hard decision that had been ignored?”

Carroll remained on the defensive. Assuring the crowd he has respect for educators and benefits from the pension system himself as a retired law enforcement officer, he stood firm on his position for change. “It has nothing to do with lack of respect. It has to do with a state-wide crisis that will bring this state to our knees if we do not deal with it,” Carroll said. “I know you’ve paid your part. I realize that. But, it doesn’t change where we are. It doesn’t change the fact that we’ve got a huge liability that’s going to take us decades to deal with.”

Carroll addressed key issues impacting the pension system including a few statistics, including one-third of the unfunded liability being due to investment returns. He also defended previous legislatures against accusations of not funding the system. He says “what was required by statute was contributed, but the extra needed to fund the arc was not approved.” That makes up for 15% of the shortfall, according to the Senator.

He continued to defend his position by saying: “We can’t spend every dollar that we bring in and put it into our pension system. We have other responsibilities that we have to take care of, and if we do, that it’s going to impact every aspect of state government.”

A spokesperson for Gov. Matt Bevin sent us this message: “Gov. Bevin remains fully committed to reforming Kentucky’s failing pension systems and ‘Keeping the Promise’ does just that, meeting the legal and moral obligations owed to retired teachers and public servants.”

If you missed our live stream of the town hall meeting, you can watch it by clicking here.

The previous version of this story read “Sen. Carroll addressed criticism of previous legislatures, saying the reallocation of funds only account for 15 percent of the pension shortage. He thinks the rest can be summed up by a lack of revenue.” It has been replaced with an explanation that one-third of the pension shortfall, Carroll attributes to investment returns rather than revenue shortages. 

Carroll also further explains the 15% is due to not putting additional monies into the system, rather than funding what was mandated by statute. 

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