Hundreds rally on steps of Capitol against proposed pension changes

11/01/2017 07:54 PM

FRANKFORT – Hundreds of teachers and public-sector workers flocked to the Capitol steps on Wednesday, rallying against a pension reform plan that lawmakers are expected to consider in an upcoming legislative session.

Armed with placards with phrases like “A Pension is a Promise,” “Sophisticated Voter” and “Honor Your Commitment” and chanting slogans from “We Are Kentucky” – a phrase often used by Gov. Matt Bevin – to “Vote Them Out,” demonstrators decried the proposal drafted by Bevin and top lawmakers to grapple with unfunded pension liabilities estimated at up to $64 billion.

But concerns over transitioning to a defined-contribution retirement accounts for most new and recent government employees and capping current defined-benefit pensions at 27 years of service before moving those workers into 401(a) plans bubbled over on Wednesday, and many speakers at the Fund Our Pensions Rally urged the crowd to take their frustrations to the ballot boxes if it becomes law.

“If (lawmakers) choose not to listen to us, we get another opportunity to exercise a constitutional right,” said T.J. Gilpin, president of the Kentucky Transportation Employees’ Association.

“We get to go out and vote, so if you haven’t talked to your legislators, you better get out and do it. If you’re at work tomorrow or the next day and you talk to your coworkers, make sure they do it, too.”

State Reps. Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, and James Kay, D-Versailles, attended Wednesday’s rally and said the throng of boisterous people assembled on the Capitol steps show how frustrated public-sector workers are with the proposed pension changes.

Graham, a retired teacher, said his daughter followed his footsteps to the classroom, and she’s shared with him some of the concerns that her fellow educators have expressed since the pension proposal’s release, among them the defined-benefit pension caps and giving local school districts the options of granting sick days.

The Democratic legislators said government employees they’ve heard from simply want retirement security, something top policymakers say can be accomplished in their proposed defined-contribution plans despite misgivings from opponents of the legislation.

“They may not have been able to receive the types of salaries that they could’ve gotten if they went into the private sector, but they knew on the backend of it that they would have a secure retirement that would take care of them for the rest of their lives,” Graham said. “It was a promise made, and it should be a promise kept.”

Kay said underfunding the state’s pension systems also played into the dissatisfaction on display at Wednesday’s rally.

“If you don’t fund their pensions and then you don’t let them sit at the table during the discussion, they are going to show up like this, and they’re going to continue to show up as long as they can,” Kay said, “and they’ll show up in November of (2018).”


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