By Randy Wieck, Kentucky teacher and pension activist. I asked Randy to bring us up to date in Mitch McConnell’s home state.
At a time when the Republican super majorities in the Kentucky Legislature would seem to have more pressing issues to face – Covid-shuttered schools and businesses, unemployment supplements, eviction waivers, universal Covid testing and tracing – they nonetheless carry on with a new drive-by attempt at teacher pension “reform” which, once again, is a thinly veiled attempt to dismantle (let us be honest and use the proper term – gut) the Kentucky teacher defined benefit pension plan; kill it once and for all.
The idea of properly funding the plan, according to relevant GASB accounting standards, and repairing the damage inflicted over several decades of underfunding – is one legislators choose to duck. Better to chisel Kentucky’s way out of the debt it has run up through using funds that should have gone to the teacher pension (known as the actuarially required contribution), and which were instead used for other purposes. Perhaps they are following the lead of Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell who refuses to allow federal aid to states beset with heavy, unforeseen expenses during a worldwide pandemic.
Rather than supply much-needed and adequate funding to TRS, (some $2 Billion per year for the foreseeable future) legislators instead prefer to “reform” the plan, placing new-hires into the old “beating-a-dead-horse” hybrid pension system.
Why not simply begin to pay back the missing funding and repair the damage inflicted by the legislature, and not by teachers who have dependably paid one of the highest pension contribution rates in the country (13%)?
Teachers who question the current “reform” proposal have been met by cries, such as that from Representative Kevin Bratcher R-Louisville, that teachers should get out of politics and elections because it “poisons the well” when pensions are discussed.
The current proposal of “reform” or dismantling the DB pension – has a 90% funded “trigger” which, when the plan falls below that percentage – permits the board of trustees of TRS to cut benefits: “If funding is below 90%, the TRS Board of Trustees shall utilize the adjustments necessary to maintain the trust funding until restored to at least 90%.” One major problem: TRS is currently funded at 40%, despite the pollyannaish propaganda of its current managers. TRS has not been 90% funded since the early 2000s.
This is, in its simplest form, another “sewer” bill; you may remember that: where many of the same legislators attempted to push through TRS pension reforms in 2018, late in the night, in a bill where the word “sewage” was suddenly replaced by “pension”. Luckily, teachers caught wind of that – no pun intended – and staged sick-outs, and converged in their thousands on the state Capitol. The legislators backed down. (PBS Frontline recounted these events in the Emmy-nominated documentary “The Pension Gamble” – worth a view).
This time, teachers are home-bound, avoiding crowds, and struggling to supply acceptable virtual instruction. Yes – just the right time to attempt to slip this new pension reform sewage into law.