For the past several years, public employees have been absorbing and taking the brunt of budget cuts as our policy makers balance the budget on the backs of these public servants. So much misinformation, falsehoods and generalities are being published and believed by our fellow citizens, that we need to set the record straight! The assault on public pensioners and employees from the private sector, specifically the Chamber of Commerce and the Bluegrass Institute (Jim Waters) needs to stop! If Mr. Waters is going to print information in our state newspapers, he needs to check his facts, rather than write items such as the tabloid magazines do without any proof of what he is saying.
First and foremost, we retirees are taxpayers too! For all the years we worked for the commonwealth, we paid our taxes just like everyone else and still do, and contributed to our retirement without question. So, when the private sector groups say the taxpayers are paying for our pensions, we need to point out that in all our years of service we contributed a significant amount that was mandated to our retirement fund. Not too many years ago, employees agreed to contribute an additional 1 percent so that they could have the benefits they now have. This percentage was deducted from employees’ paychecks and deposited into their retirement account. So, you see, state retirees do not, nor have ever had a free ride at the expense of the taxpayers.
Secondly, incorrect information abounds concerning health insurance benefits and coverage for spouses and family members. The majority of retirees and current state employees have not only had many increases in their health insurance over the years, but have higher deductibles, higher co-pays, and have not had their spouse’s coverage paid for unless they paid it themselves. Hazardous-duty retirees are the only ones having spouse coverage paid for, and this is not paid in its entirety.
The current personnel policy for voting leave is up to four hours per election, and the time off for giving blood is up to four hours. Let’s set the record straight. Historically, the salary of public employees has been significantly lower than that of the private sector and in order to compete for the best and most qualified employee, the benefits provided were a major factor in securing top-notch employees. Remember, these retirees/employees the private sector seems so intent on bashing are our public servants who provide us with the essential services we all demand in our everyday lives.
A comment by Mr. Waters about the unfunded pension liability increasing by 3,000 percent to more than $30 billion is totally incorrect. Shame on you! The current unfunded liability is $19.2 billion as of July 1, 2011, and is caused, in part, by decreased revenue from investments in this time of economic downturn and the failure of the legislature, over the past 20 years, to fund the system according to the actuarially required contribution (ARC) rate. Another significant loss to the system is the loss of potential investment earnings and compounding on these employer contribution funds that were never placed into the system. The 2008 Pension Reform Act was a positive step toward lowering this liability and we should give this act time to work. KPR has again urged the governor and the legislature to live up to its commitments in funding the ARC and expect them to do so.
So, we can only urge the private sector groups (individuals) responsible for these assaults on state employees and retirees to stop the jealous, petty bantering. Although we understand that the under-funding of our retirement system is a priority issue and one to be discussed in a positive manner, we will continue to protect the integrity of these public employees/retirees as an important segment of our society who deserve our respect and security in their retirement.
The Kentucky Public Retirees is an organization representing the interests of all public retirees within the Kentucky Retirement Systems throughout the commonwealth and we will continue to be the voice for those retired public servants in our quest for the stability and solvency of their retirement system as a whole and for the individual benefits they now receive and deserve.
Tom Moore is president of Kentucky Public Retirees. Shirley Clark and Sarah Hurst serve as legislative chairwoman and legislative agent, respectively.