Meeting addresses state pensions

Governor Matt Bevin’s proposal regarding state pensions, dubbed “Keeping the Promise,” has many state employees worried about their retirement. Three state legislators, Sen. Johnny Ray Turner (D), Rep. Chris Fugate (R) and Rep. Rick Nelson (R) took part in a town hall meeting at Harlan County High School on Thursday to discuss the issue.

The meeting was moderated by Kentucky Education Association UniServe Representative Sharon Oxendine.

Oxendine told the audience, made up mostly of teachers, retired teachers and other state employees, the purpose of the meeting was not to advise them to retire.

“There is an alternative piece of legislature that we think Speaker Jeff Hoover is going to introduce to the Republican house majority…that will be an alternative to the governor’s plan that might not be as punitive as this plan we’re currently looking at,” Oxendine said. “If you are nearing retirement, this is not the time to retire. If you want to keep working, then you should continue to work. This is not to scare you into retirement.”

Oxendine asked the legislators to introduce themselves and state their position on the current proposal.

Nelson said he will vote no on the proposal in its current form.

“I’m not voting no just to say I voted no,” Nelson explained. “As teachers and CERS and KERS members, this is the strongest you’ve been since Governor Fletcher tried to mess with the health insurance back in 2005.”

Nelson explained he had been a teacher for 30 years.

“There are too many bad things in this current bill,” Nelson said. “Even if KEA does another bill, if there’s a lot of bad things in there I’m not going to vote for it…I think we ought to go ahead and start over from the drawing board. We’re almost ready for the regular session anyway.”

Fugate also rejected the proposal.

“I was elected last year and I am a 22-year veteran of the Kentucky State Police,” Fugate said. “When I saw the plan at first, there were a lot of things I took into consideration such as loss of jobs in our area; the 3 percent increase on the health insurance was a big thing that caught my eye.”

Fugate said he did not think the proposal was fair.

“I’m a no vote right now,” Fugate said. “We all know there has to be some changes because we all deserve to get our retirement. We paid our part in…we all deserve to get what we’ve earned.”

Turner also explained he does not currently support the proposal.

“I’m a retired teacher of 28 years,” Turner said. “I’m not going to vote for anything that’s going to hurt you, me or my family. I’m an adamant no at this point.”

The legislators then took questions from attendees.

Oxendine addressed many questions to the legislators, including a question concerning cost of living adjustments.

“Currently teachers pre-pay 1.74 percent of their salary each year for every 1.5 percent cost of living adjustment they will receive when they retire,” Oxendine said. “The governor’s plan would freeze those cost of living adjustments (COLA) for existing retirees up to five years. Do you support the retraction of any COLA?”

Nelson explained why he would not support retraction of COLAs, stating many have been prepaid. He also said if the money from those COLAs is pulled, there will be a negative impact on the local economy due to that money not being available.

“The effect on the local economy is going to be pretty rough,” Nelson responded. “How many retired teachers do we have in Harlan? Hundreds? If you automatically suck that money out of the economy that you have already paid for, I think it will hurt businesses and I don’t think it’s fair to take something from somebody that they’ve already paid for.”

Fugate and Turner also stated they would not support any retraction of cost of living adjustments.

For more information on the “Keeping the Promise” proposal, go to https://pensions.ky.gov/Pages/index.aspx