The fight to protect pensions in Kentucky has been long and drawn-out. Despite months of promises, Governor Bevin never called a special legislative session last year to address tax reform and public pensions. Earlier this year, members of the Kentucky State Senate introduced a pension bill, Senate Bill 1, that, despite passing out of committee, never received a vote on the senate floor and was actually referred back to committee. The overwhelming opposition of teachers, firefighters, police officers, and other public employees to SB1 seemed to have stopped any attempts to gut pensions in Kentucky this year. Unfortunately, Republican legislators in Kentucky pulled a sudden, last minute, and potentially illegal legislative stunt and rammed through a pension-gutting bill in the span of seven hours last week.
Senate Bill 151 is not even a pension bill. It is literally titled “An Act relating to the local provision of wastewater services”. That’s right, Republican legislators in Kentucky took a bill dealing with sewage, and tacked on legislation designed to gut pensions. If you think that stinks, so do we.
Senate Bill 151 drops the controversial COLA cuts from SB1. However, it forces all newly-hired teachers into a cash balance hybrid plan, instead of a defined benefit pension. It also violates the “inviolable contract”, eliminates sick leave for the purposes of retirement eligibility, and would cause some state retirees to lose a $5000 death benefit.
What might be more appalling than the actual content of the legislation is the undemocratic way it was passed. The 291 page bill was introduced suddenly, with no chance for review. It was passed without an actuarial analysis, which is potentially illegal. The analysis wasn’t even available for public viewing until the morning after its passage. Doors were locked to keep citizens away from their legislators while they debated the bill. SB151 passed from the House State Government Committee to the House floor to the Senate floor to the governor’s desk for signature on the same day it was introduced. This is not how government is supposed to work in a deliberative democracy.
In response, teachers across Kentucky called in sick on Friday and flooded the state capitol. Many schools remain closed today as tens of thousands of teachers, other public employees, and concerned citizens rally at the state capitol to oppose this harmful legislation and the deceitful, undemocratic way it was passed. The state attorney general has already announced he will file suit to stop SB151. We may have lost this battle, but the fight to protect pensions in Kentucky is far from over.