Pension Tension: Protests, comments fuel divide on SB 1

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WKYT/AP) - First, it was supposed to be done in a special session last fall. But after 49 days of the General Assembly's 60-day regular session, lawmakers still have not passed pension reform.

Visible opposition to Senate Bill 1, the pension bill, continues to grow - inflamed Wednesday by controversial comments from Gov. Matt Bevin - even as the bill itself lingers in limbo in Frankfort.

Senate leaders delayed a vote on the pension bill late last week, sending it back to committee. The committee met Wednesday but did not take up the pension bill, effectively putting its future in doubt.

On Wednesday, Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, told the Courier Journal he doesn't "see a lot of hope" for passing the bill, with only 11 legislative days left on the calendar.

"That's the reality of it," he said.

Republicans said not passing the bill will hurt the state, local governments and school districts, particularly with a steep increase in contributions those localities will face next year.

The bill has seen growing opposition, especially in recent days. Hundreds of teachers, administrators, public workers and others held a rally at the state capitol on Monday against the pension bill.

In a radio interview with WVLC-FM in Campbellsville on Wednesday, Gov. Matt Bevin had strong words for protestors, saying they want more than their "fair share" and are "throwing a temper tantrum."

"If they get what they wish for, they will not have a pension system for the younger people who are still working," he said. "That to me is remarkably selfish and shortsighted. But we're going to try to save people in spite of themselves."

Gov. Bevin was a particular target of teachers' scorn at a rally Wednesday afternoon outside the courthouse in Madison County.

"Every time the governor has an interview where he attacks public education, just, it's appalling," said Kevin Presnell, a social studies teacher at Madison Central High School. "Because that's how we get anywhere as a state, is by educating the public."

House Speaker Pro Tempore David Osborne, R-Prospect, condemned the governor's remarks, calling them "inappropriate," and saying they "show a lack of understanding of the people who are impacting the lives of young people in our state."

Osborne said that the governor deserves credit for seeking greatly increased state funding to support the pension plans. But he said comments like the governor's make it harder for lawmakers to solve the pension issue.

"You know, it's a problem that quite frankly has clouded this entire debate over pensions," Osborne told reporters. "When you make policy arguments personal, it makes it very difficult to talk about facts."

Supporters say Senate Bill 1 would save Kentucky taxpayers $3.2 billion over 20 years. Kentucky's pension system is one of the worst-funded in the country.

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