State workers and those worried about the Kentucky pension crisis gathered at the Christian County Courthouse Friday evening for a rally in support of teacher and state worker pensions.
“We stand together to remind those who control the purse strings to honor their commitment to us,” said Beverly Riner, a state worker of 36 years, who worked with the elderly, disabled and orphans.
At the rally, attended by about 60 people, attendees spoke at a podium about their desire to keep their pension contracts in place.
Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin has said he plans to call a special legislative session this year to take on the issue of pension reform.
The commonwealth has been reported to have a $33 billion pension debt in addition to $6 billion for retiree health plans. Bevin’s administration said on its website the unfunded liability pension reaches $64 billion.
The website states that by 2022 the Kentucky Employment Retirement System: Non-Hazardous plan will run out of money.
The state hired PFM Consulting Group to come up with suggestions to alleviate the pension crisis. The group recently offered multiple suggestions to the state government, including repealing cost of living adjustments, which the group says will save the state more than $1 billion a year.
The suggestions have been highly criticized and have worried some state workers that their pensions will be downgraded.
Former state Rep. Jeff Taylor attended the rally and said the state paid the consulting group $1 million to study the pension crisis.
“That’s $1 million of useless information that I would gladly have given the government for free,” he said.
Taylor, who was defeated in last year’s election by Rep. Walker Thomas, said he wished he could have been a part of the legislative session last spring, because he felt that the legislature ignored the pension crisis, which he defined as the number one priority for Kentucky, in favor of secondary issues like charter schools.
He said the consulting group was another example of the pension issue being ignored by the state government.
“This is not a partisan issue. This is a do-the-right-thing issue,” he said.
The teachers and other state workers as well as their supporters applauded during many of the speeches at the rally.
One retired state worker, Howard Dixon, who worked for 16 years as an unemployment insurance supervisor, said he expected to be taken care of by the state in his retirement.
“By golly, I paid my share,” he said, referring to the fact that he paid into the pension system for the 20 years of his state employment and now hoped to reap the benefits of his work.
When one of the consultant’s suggestions to raise the retirement age to 65 was brought up, the crowd reacted negatively.
“We do this because it was a calling, not because we wanted a big pension at the end of our career,” said Eddie Campbell, Vice-President of the Kentucky Education Association.
Campbell encouraged the rally attendants to talk to their neighbors and coworkers about “the facts” of Kentucky’s pension crisis. And he encouraged them to call their local legislators.
One of those legislators, Rep. Thomas was on hand at the rally.
“We are doing everything we can to protect your pensions,” he said to the crowd. “We’ve got to have a new starting point.”
Sam Gaskins, who recently announced his bid for U.S. Rep. James Comer’s seat, also attended the rally.
“It’s time to stop saying, ‘it’s their fault or it’s their fault,’” he said. “It’s about time that everybody here talk to Bevin.”