Pension Reform At What Cost?

Matt Bevin, Kentucky’s governor, has been riling the dander of many people as of late with his proposed pension reform plan. Under the plan, public employees – including teachers, police offers, firefighters, road department employees, many EMS providers, and much more – would be moved from the current pension plan to a defined-contribution plan that would work like a 401(k) retirement plan. Governor Bevin and supporters say that this will end Kentucky’s considerable debt and underfunding that has occurred under the current pension plan. Opponents, of which I am one, argue that this bill breaks promises made to the Commonwealth’s public employees and will reduce retirement benefits. I will take it a step further.

Governor Bevin’s proposal is immoral.

Nevermind the fact that the proposal being passed around Frankfort includes language that ends the legal requirement of school districts to provide any paid sick days per year for our educators. Nevermind the fact that current language also takes away line of duty death benefits from a significant portion of Kentucky’s current law enforcement personnel and all new hires. Nevermind the fact that such defined contribution plans have limits on contributions and are tied to a volatile stock market. This plan is immoral because it breaks promises made to generations of employees who have filled our schools, government offices, ambulances, fire trucks, police cars, and road crews with the best and the brightest to serve the citizens of Kentucky. The message being conveyed is that the short-term and long-term well being of Kentucky’s public workers does not matter and that the governor seems them as expendable.

This is immoral.

And let’s not forget that Governor Bevin thinks that you and I, Joe Q. Public, are not smart enough to get how such things work and what needs to be done. Governor Bevin stated:

The people who do not have the sophistication to understand what’s at stake, but will bear the brunt of it, are the ones that are going to suffer if people like us who get it, who are willing to fight for it, don’t step up.

Governor Bevin would do well to know that we are smart enough to understand what’s going on. Here’s what else we are sophisticated enough to know: We understand that promises should be kept. We understand that the people who are the ones who will shape the future of this state, who provide for the safety of all of us, and who ensure that our infrastructure is maintained at the best possible levels matter and should be looked after. We are smart enough to know that something much be done in order to shore up the state’s retirement fund but we also are smart enough to know that gutting the pension plan and replacing it with something that simply is not in the best interest of the people is what should be done.

Perhaps Governor Bevin lacks the sophistication to understand that the people elected him and the people can also vote him out.

For my wife and I, this is personal. She is an educator who wants to have a secure future. I am a former paramedic who ministers to those who continue to work on the streets every day to ensure that the best out-of-hospital healthcare is provided to Powell County, Kentucky. We are also taxpayers who want our money to be used wisely and in ways that will benefit the employees that our taxes go to the pay the salaries and other benefits of.

But perhaps more importantly as Christians, we have a responsibility to see that people are cared for. Taking away their retirement and other vital benefits is not getting that job done. As a disciple and especially as a pastor I have a responsibility to name and fight that which is an injustice. If this does not fit the nature of an injustice that is repugnant to anyone’s morals, I don’t know what does.

One early sign we see of this being a bad idea is the sheer number of teachers, school administration, and other public employees who either have retired or will before the end of the year. We are about to see a crisis in our classrooms the likes of which no one has ever imagined. If you don’t believe me, ask any school employee. They will tell you of people within their districts who either have retired or will very soon. In other words, Kentucky’s teacher shortage is about to grow exponentially. And that’s just in our schools. This does not include the firefighters, police officers, and others who are taking the same action.

Kentucky is about to be in a real mess.

I call upon our representatives in Frankfort to work against this bill. I would also love for our clergy in Kentucky to fight against this injustice and to pray for its defeat. We must stand with our public employees, especially our teachers and public safety workers. This is simply not in the best interest of the Commonwealth.

A Tale of Two States

I am a transplant to Kentucky, having just moved here in June. One of the things I have found myself doing often is comparing how each state differs in its traditions, customs and certainly in their government. I want to offer you the same opportunity.

As you may have seen in a previous post, I wrote a letter advocating for the General Assembly of Kentucky to pass a bill allowing EMS providers to receive the same benefits as police officers and firefights should they die in the line of duty. I had received some bad information that the bill was in danger of failing to pass and I urged my state senator and representative to support this measure. The next morning I received a call from Representative David Hale who took time out of his busy schedule to call me personally and tell me that the bill was indeed expected to do well and that he was not sure how information had gotten out that the bill was in danger. He let me know that he fully supported the bill and many of his counterparts in the senate did well. He then took a few moments to get to know me, thanked me for making the choice to move to the Commonwealth and also asked if I had any other concerns related to EMS workers. He also commended me for taking up pastoral ministry as he is also a pastor and knew how difficult it can be to balance the duties of the church with everything else life throws at you. He was very pleasant and I thanked him for giving me a call when he certainly did not have to. He said, “I work for you. It’s my pleasure.”

Contrast that to how I have been treated by a Mississippi official.

A couple of years ago, I wrote Representative William Shirley and expressed my concerns about cuts to education and the fact that teachers in Mississippi had not, at that time, received a raise in quite some time. He did not even bother to return the email. I get it, I know he has bills to vote on, committees to sit on, campaign fund money to give to himself (see page 11) and to spend at the fish camp he owns (page 10).

But I digress.

I emailed him again and this time he responded. Essentially the exchange was not very polite on his end. He essentially let me know that he would vote for and against bills that were in his best interest of staying elected and to heck with everything else.

He also made it clear that my opinion was not valued.

And then there’s this guy who told a constituent that he “could care less” about her views, that her views were not Mississippi views, and that she should consider moving back to Illinois. Her crime was the same as mine: She dared to advocate for education and questioned the wisdom of tax cuts when revenue was already projected to be lower than expected to a member of a legislative regime who is determined to cut as much spending as possible from education for the benefit of their donors who happen to be “non-profit” private education companies.

Legislators in my home state of Mississippi could learn a lot from their Kentucky counterparts.

Jonathan