Retirees and teachers protested prior to a Senate State and Local Government Committee meeting to consider Senate Bill 1, a pension overhaul plan, at the Kentucky State Capitol Annex in Frankfort, Ky., on Feb. 28, 2018. | Courtesy Lexington Herald-Leader

By Jack Brammer | Lexington Herald-Leader

“Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey, hey, goodbye.” That was the blunt political message hundreds of teachers and public workers sang Wednesday to lawmakers who plan to support a proposed overhaul of Kentucky’s ailing public pension systems.

They filled four hearing rooms and many of the hallways in the Capitol Annex as the Senate State and Local Govenrment Committee discussed but did not vote on Senate Bill 1.

Paula Adams, who taught school for 38 years in Middlesboro before retiring, held a sign that read, “Reducing COLAs and Health Benefits is Elder Abuse.”

Adams said she started teaching for less than $6,000 a year and always expected the state “to keep its word” on her pension.

“We paid our money in faithfully, expected them to protect us and give us our money and then they turn around and say ‘no,’” she said. “And that’s not right.”

“I cannot find another job,” said Adams, who has had cancer and battles high blood pressure. “I’m expecting my retirement to take me through.”

Many protesters said they want lawmakers to fully fund the current retirement systems and leave it at that, but proponents of the bill have said changes must be made in order to sustain the systems for teachers and state and local government workers. Combined, those systems have an unfunded liability of more than $40 billion.

Carroll County teachers Trina Raker and Cheri Mann carried their young daughters — Ansley Raker and Jayna Mann — on their shoulders with signs telling lawmakers “Do Not Cut My Mommy’s Pension.”

Chris Volz, president of Laborers Local 576 in Louisville, said legislators should raise revenue to fulfill their pension promises instead of cutting public workers’ benefits. The union represents Metropolitan Sewer District employees.

Sue Foster, president of Local 4011 in Louisville, led the singing in one of the overflow rooms to warn legislators “their days are numbered here if they vote for SB 1.” The union represents about 4,000 classified school employees, such as custodians and cooks.

Many of the protesters said they were disappointed that the Senate committee did not vote on the bill, but promised to “be back” whenever that vote occurs.