Gov. Matt Bevin

As his pension bill begins to stall in Frankfort amid growing protests by teachers, Gov. Matt Bevin blasted those critics in a radio interview Wednesday morning as “remarkably selfish and shortsighted,” comparing their opposition to those who would have refused to comply with rationing during World War II.

Last week, the Republican leadership of the state Senate unexpectedly canceled a scheduled vote on Senate Bill 1 due to lacking the required votes, sending it back to committee. Well over 1,000 teachers and other public workers protested the bill at a rally outside the capitol building on Monday, and some key Republican legislators are beginning to doubt whether an amended version of SB 1 can pass before the session’s deadline later this month.

In a radio interview on WVLC Wednesday morning, Bevin lashed out at teachers who have protested his pension bill, calling it “the most bizarre thing I’ve ever experienced.” The governor said that the legislation is the only way to save the badly underfunded pension system of government workers in Kentucky, and that without it the plans would collapse.

Bevin’s original proposal last year would have moved most public employees from a defined benefit plan to a 401(k)-style plan, but this strategy could not get enough support among Republicans, who found that it would end up being too expensive. The latest version of SB 1 cuts cost-of-living adjustments for teachers and places new teachers in a hybrid cash balance plan — both a traditional defined benefit plan and a 401-(k)-style plan — but has still faced heavy opposition from teachers.

Bevin said in the interview Wednesday that teachers are the only state workers that get raises every year of their retirement, and that they are paid more than teachers in every state that borders Kentucky. He added that teachers’ protest “is not even about survival, it’s about just straight up wanting more than your fair share.”

“The reality is, this is a group of people that are throwing a temper tantrum,” said Bevin. “If they get what they wish for, they will not have a pension system for the younger people who are still working. And that to me is remarkably selfish and shortsighted. But we’re going to try to save people in spite of themselves.”

Bevin also compared the teachers’ protests to a hypothetical example of Americans choosing to protest rationing during World War II that was intended to support the troops and save the nation.

“This would be like people protesting that … like people having mass demonstrations about how: ‘No, I want my butter. I want my sugar. I’m going to keep all my steel and my rubber and my copper, and to heck with the rest of you people, but you better keep giving me mine,’ ” said Bevin. “That’s what it is. It’s the most remarkable commentary on who we are in modern times.”

Calling Kentucky’s public pension system the worst funded in America — and noting that he has significantly increased their annual funding — Bevin said that this largely happened under the watch of former Gov. Steve Beshear, whom he assumed the teachers supported politically.

“For the last eight years before I was elected, the governor that we had — that presumably these teachers loved, presumably they thought he was doing a great job — never fully funded their pension,” said Bevin. “Never. I’m the only governor in the lifetime of any of these teachers that has fully funded the plan, and yet they seemingly hate what we’re doing and they say we need to stop doing it.”

When asked if he could change the minds of teachers, Bevin expressed pessimism, recalling “an old saying that you can’t win an argument with an ignorant person.”

“If a person is uninformed about a topic, they’re not even able to make their own case for what they believe,” said Bevin. “You have people that are scared, and they’ve been whipped into a lot of false information. I mean, you literally go and ask these people why they’re demonstrating … because they don’t want to have pension taken away. There’s nobody proposing that.”

Bevin then went on to assert that of Kentucky’s 75,000 teachers, about 70,000 of them “probably know exactly what’s going on,” but “of the 5,000 who don’t, some few hundred of them or so are easily misled, and they’re the ones that people are taking advantage of, and it’s too bad.”

The governor did not spare his criticism to just protesting teachers, as he also called out legislators who are afraid of them or not being reelected.

“The fact that our legislators are in some cases not willing to make the hard decisions to save people from their own misinformed opinion is crazy,” said Bevin. “I mean, we were sent there to do this.”

Comparing those legislators fearing angry teachers or losing their reelection bids to Broward County deputy sheriffs who failed to act in the Parkland High School shooting in Florida, Bevin said, “Folks like that, maybe you should find a different profession.”

Asked Wednesday morning about the prospects of SB 1 being revived and passing the General Assembly this session, Senate President Robert Stivers said: “I don’t see a lot of hope for it. That’s just the reality.”

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Joe Sonka
Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]