Politics

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin called teachers who oppose the Republican plan to overhaul the state’s pension systems “selfish,” saying it was “bizarre” that they would protest the proposal to cut their retirement benefits.

During an interview on WVLC radio in Campbellsville on Tuesday, Bevin compared protesting teachers to people who hoarded rationed goods during World War II.

“This would be like people having mass demonstrations about how, ‘no, I want my butter, I want my sugar. I’m going to keep all my steel and my rubber and my copper and to heck with the rest of you people but you better keep giving me mine,’” Bevin said.

“It’s about just straight up wanting more than your fair share.”

Republican leaders of the state legislature have proposed tweaking retirement benefits to some current and future state workers — especially teachers — to pump more money into the pension systems over the next 30 years.

Teachers have rallied hard against provisions in the bill that would reduce annual cost of living adjustments received by retired teachers and moving them into less-generous pension plans.

State workers hired after Jan. 1, 2014 would also be moved into less-generous plans.

Unlike other state workers, teachers aren’t allowed to receive Social Security benefits, which also have cost of living adjustments.

During the radio interview, Bevin said teachers were throwing a “temper tantrum” and questioned why they receive cost of living adjustments while other state workers don’t.

“They get a pay raise every year for the rest of their lives, even after they’re no longer teaching,” Bevin said. “They’re the only workers — state troopers don’t. They go out and are willing to get shot at, some of them do get killed in the line of duty.”

Brent McKim, president of the Jefferson County Teachers Association, called Bevin’s comments “disrespectful.”

“As public school educators, we earn a modest salary and spend our own money on classroom supplies, and sometimes even on food and clothing for our students,” Mckim wrote in a Facebook post.

“We have dedicated our lives to making a difference, one student at a time. And we deserve better than to be disparaged by the highest office-holder in our state.”

Last week, Bevin said teachers were wrongfully criticizing his stance on the pension issue, saying they are “either ill-informed or willfully blind.”

Acting House Speaker David Osborne, a Republican from Prospect, said that Bevin’s comments were inappropriate and making it difficult to discuss the pension proposal with constituents.

“I think they show a lack of understanding of the people that are impacting the lives of young people in this state,” Osborne said. “It just makes it very difficult to actually discuss facts when you heighten those personal passions that much.”

Meanwhile, the pension bill has stalled after intense rallies in Frankfort from teachers and other state workers.

Senate President Robert Stivers said the bill “has a very limited and difficult path forward at this point in time.”

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