Politics

Next week, Kentucky voters will head to the polls to weigh in on primary elections, including who to nominate for state legislative elections this fall.

All 100 seats in the state House of Representatives and half of the 38 seats in the state Senate are up for re-election this year.

At least 40 current and retired educators are running after the legislature voted to make changes to retirement for current and future teachers and other state workers.

And a wave of retirements from the statehouse has sparked hotly contested primaries, with both of Kentucky’s major political parties hoping to flip districts in their favor.

Based on absentee and early voting totals, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes predicts that 30 percent of registered voters will show up to the polls — the largest primary turnout since 2010.

“I think you will see a Kentucky electorate that is beginning to get up, get out, and get loud with voters making their voices heard at the polls,” Grimes said in a statement.

“We have witnessed dismal levels of participation in the last few years – 20 percent in 2016, a presidential election, and only 12 percent in the last governor’s race in 2015. This year, I think we could see the number of Kentuckians going to the polls improving.”

Grimes said that as of Monday nearly 25,000 early voters had voted in county clerks’ offices and about 12,000 mail-in absentee ballots had been sent out.

This year’s legislative session was marked by intense protests, especially from teachers concerned about changes to retirement benefits and education funding.

Lawmakers passed a two-year state budget that raised per-pupil education to the highest rate in state history, but critics said it fails to equal pre-recession funding levels when inflation is accounted for.

The budget also cut several ancillary education programs like grants for textbooks and teacher professional development.

After backing off proposals to move current and future pensioners into 401(k)-style retirement plans, the Republican-led legislature ended up passing changes that mostly affect future hires.

Future teachers will no longer receive defined benefit pensions, instead receiving “hybrid cash-balance” plans that rely on stock market growth.

Lawmakers also changed how workers can use accumulated sick days to qualify for retirement and required employees hired between 2003 and 2008 to pay 1 percent of their salaries for retiree health insurance — provisions that are being challenged in court.

Republicans currently have supermajorities in both chambers of the legislature — 63 of the 100 seats in the House, and 27 of the 38 seats in the Senate.

Democrats had a majority of seats in the House from 1921 until 2016, but Republicans won an overwhelming 17 seats with Donald Trump at the top of the ballot in 2016.

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