After reading Lance Cary’s recent misleading letter, which says my voting record somehow undermines my commitment to our current and retired public workers, I felt compelled to respond.
In case there is any doubt, let me be clear: I have never voted for – and will never vote for – any measure that lessens health and retirement benefits promised to our school employees and those who work for our state and local governments. These benefits have been provided without fail, and I will accept nothing less. Claims that I have somehow worked against that goal are so narrowly focused that they miss the mark completely.
My career in the Kentucky House of Representatives began right when the Great Recession was just starting. Since then, legislators and governors alike have had to navigate state government through numerous budget cuts without harming critical services. In that time, I fought to shield our classrooms from spending reductions and backed efforts to streamline such broad areas of government as criminal justice and Medicaid, moves that saved taxpayers millions of dollars. Each of the bills that Lance says are proof that I don’t support public employees and retirees were state budgets totaling tens of billions of dollars. While I did not agree with every action taken in those massive spending plans, I could not in good conscience vote against funding our schools, our contributions to the public retirement systems and hundreds of other programs and projects we all count on each and every day. At least three-fourths of the House of Representatives and all but one legislator in the Senate cast the same votes I did, highlighting the broad bipartisan support of the compromises that were made.
While earlier budgets did use excess funding from the Kentucky Employees’ Health Plan (KEHP), something I wish could have been avoided, it is critical to note two things. First, the state covers more than 80 percent of the average premium cost for employee health insurance; and, second, we self-insure, meaning the state is on the hook if expenses exceed premiums but the state retains the funding if claims are small.
The great news is that both employees and the state have really benefited from this approach. In 2015, for example, KEHP took in almost a fifth more than it needed, and last year, income exceeded expenses by 14 percent. This trend is largely driven by the fact that claims have dropped dramatically in recent years. As such, this success has also kept employee premiums largely flat over that same timeframe. I wish Lance would have pointed out that the current two-year budget dedicates about $500 million of KEHP’s excess funding toward paying off the liabilities facing our state retirement systems. I also wish he would have highlighted the fact that, for state employees, the General Assembly provided millions of dollars more than required to bring the liabilities in their retirement system down even quicker. I was proud to support those measures.
As I have said before, I am against the governor’s proposal to radically overhaul our state retirement systems. I think it would hurt public employees and retirees in ways that are illegal and unfair, and it would make it much more difficult to attract the kind of public workers we need in the future.
I was one of the first to come out against draconian recommendations from the governor’s consultant, and no one will fight harder than I will to make sure promises made are promises kept when it comes to public pensions. Those implying otherwise are just wrong.
In ending, I want to thank Brent McKim, the president of the Jefferson County Teachers Association, for his support and for clarifying that he also was upset that broad comments he made years ago were being used against me now. Thanks to people like him and thousands of others across the Commonwealth, we are making great strides in turning away a plan that would take the state backward rather than forward. We need to put all of our energy toward strengthening, not weakening, our state’s retirement systems. With this letter, I’m asking Lance to join with us.