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.

Blessed Are the Peacemakers

I won’t recount the tragedy in Baton Rouge in detail because you already know about it. It may seem strange but even British media report on these events and I found out about the officers in Baton Rouge being killed while in line for the loo at a pub in Bath. I have to be very honest about my response: I was filled with anger. Yet again, police officers – the majority of whom have had absolutely nothing to do with injustices against people of color – were targeted, ambushed, killed senselessly.

This has to stop.

I have seen many people on social media – including some clergy – who have been trying to rationalize these attacks on our law enforcement officers. To me, such rationalizations are just excuses and, possibly worse, exhibit inaction and an unwillingness to actually work for justice. There is no possible solid rational reasoning for police officers to be killed by vigilantes. None. Zero. Zilch. There is no acceptable excuse for taking life without just cause; “guilt by association” is not just cause. You should also know that EMS and fire crews have been targeted over the last few weeks because people claim that “they’re on the same side as the cops.”

This has to stop.

I know that there has been injustices committed by some police officers. I know that innocent people have died who did not have to. I agree that there should be changes made to procedures and laws so that these tragedies can be eliminated to the absolute best which can be achieved. I grieve when an innocent person is killed when they did not have to be. I am not saying that all law enforcement officers are innocent but I am also not going to condemn them all unlike so many others. I acknowledge my own privilege and I acknowledge that people of color have been harmed. However, killing other innocent people solves nothing, changes nothing, and only causes more animosity. Violence only brings more violence.

This has to stop.

During his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9 NLT). Note that he did not say that those who take the law into their own hands are blessed. He did not say that those who shed more innocent blood are blessed. He did not say those who exact revenge are blessed. The ones who are blessed are the ones who work for peace. What have you done to actually stand in the gap and make injustice into justice for someone? What have you done to bridge the divide between us and our neighbors? How have you ministered to the “least of these?”

If you have taken any actions such as snarling racial slurs, hurling insults based on stereotypes, or picked up a weapon and spilled innocent blood, then you are part of the problem.

This has to stop.

Officer Down: Michael Walters, Pearl (Mississippi) Police Department

ImageThis morning three investigators  – officers with the Pearl Police Department – were attempting to do something they do day in and day out: Serve a warrant. This warrant was for the arrest of a suspect charged with sexual battery of a minor and possession of child porn. The suspect hid in a bathtub and when he was discovered he resisted arrest. One of the officers attempted to use a taser but the suspect had a gun and fired. All three officers were hit – Investigator Walters was hit in the face. All three were transported by EMS to the University of Mississippi Medical Center (a Level I trauma center). Approximately 40 minutes later, Investigator Walters died from his wounds. The other two detectives were listed in “good” condition as of the last time I looked at the various news sites in Jackson.

Anytime a police officer, firefighter or EMS worker is killed in the line of duty, it’s a reminder that we put our lives on the line to serve the public. I particularly hate these situations because it’s a reminder to me that at any point I can get that one call where it all goes wrong and where the end isn’t going to be a good one. I never want my wife to get that visit that tells her that something has happened to me.

If I had my way no one would ever get that visit.

Believe what you want about prison, the death penalty or whatever but these acts are inexcusable. Anyone who kills a firefighter, police officer or EMS worker in the line of duty should at the least be sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole. If the DA wants to pursue the death penalty, I say bring it on. People like this suspect are the scum of the earth and should have no right to be among those in civilized society.

Let’s remember this officer, his family, the other two officers who were shot and their families and the Pearl Police Department in our thoughts and prayers. They’re all going through something that no one should ever go through.