Politics

Hundreds of state employees and retirees rallied on the steps of the State Capitol Wednesday night, protesting Gov. Matt Bevin’s proposed changes to the state’s troubled pension plans.

The governor’s proposal would move most future state workers and thousands of current ones away from defined benefit plans and onto less-generous 401(k)-style plans. State workers who reach 27 years of service would have their benefits capped and be forced to transition to the new plans.

Shelby County resident Rebecca Martin says she’s worked in the school system for 26 years but isn’t sure what she would do if the governor’s proposal becomes law.

“My plan when I started teaching in 1992 was to go at least 30 years. And at the end of 30, I was going to figure out where I was and why. Because my kids would be grown, I would be doing whatever,” Martin said.

“But now I’m looking at it differently.”

Ryland Barton | wfpl.org

Through a light drizzle, protestors chanted and carried signs that said “I Am Worth My Pension,” “Bevin Is A Bully” and “Find Funding First.”

Bevin crafted the plan with Republican leaders of the state legislature as an effort to ease the state’s massive pension debt, which ranges from $36 billion to $70 billion.

In addition to the 401(k)-esque provisions, the proposal would require all employees to contribute three percent of their paychecks towards the retiree health program.

Jason Ross, an 8th grade social studies teacher from Lexington, said the state needs to look for new revenue instead of reducing teacher pay.

“We already don’t get paid enough to begin with, and now you’re going to take away three percent for things we didn’t do,” Ross said.

Republican lawmakers — who have super majorities in both chambers of the legislature — have been reluctant to seek new revenue out of fear the move would be seen as a tax increase.

Ryland Barton | wfpl.org

During his annual address earlier this year, Bevin called for the state to close some tax breaks, but a plan never materialized.

Each year Kentucky exempts about $13 billion in taxes while collecting just $10.5 billion in tax revenue.

Bevin says he’ll call a special legislative session for lawmakers to consider his proposal, though he hasn’t declared an official date.

Republican leaders have expressed tentative support for Bevin’s plan, but say that some elements need to be changed.

Keith Heady, who has taught in Woodford County for 23 years, said that whatever the proposal lawmakers end up with needs to protect pensioners and their salaries.

“We’re going to lose money on our retirement check, on our monthly income,” Heady said. “I have children in college. I need the money.”

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.