top of page




Bluegrass Beacon: Pension class is in session

Editor’s note: The Bluegrass Beacon is a weekly syndicated statewide newspaper column posted on the Bluegrass Institute website after recently being released to and published by newspapers statewide.

Pay attention, class!

We’re having school today and I’m doing my job, not just because I must – since it’s illegal for us teachers to strike – but ensuring you get the education needed to face your future is the reason I signed up for this in the first place.

The only way I wouldn’t be here today is if our superintendent canceled school so my fellow teachers – some of whom are very angry – could pile into a big yellow school bus made to get you to and from school safely, travel to Frankfort and demand tax increases while protesting any reasonable changes in our state’s ailing pension system.

Thank goodness she put emotions to the side and looked at the facts like I’m always preaching to you about.

I did that, too, and must say that while I may not be the highest-paid teacher in the country, I’m doing pretty well – especially in a poor state like Kentucky.

According to our own national teachers’ union, my over-$52,000 salary currently is about average for our state and higher than 24 other states.

It’s also much more than the $39,000 per-capita personal income earned by your parents in 2015, which our union says was higher than only four other states.

Plus, we’re getting some generous benefits.

Unlike your parents who work in the private sector, our increases are automatic and guaranteed.

Plus, they certainly don’t have a contract like ours, which requires us to work only 185 days a year, meaning we have most summers off.

Don’t misunderstand. We’re not unlike other employees in that we simply accept benefits when offered and don’t question whether the state can afford them.

While I’m immensely grateful for Gov. Bevin and our legislators putting record numbers of dollars into the retirement systems, it’s quite clear that Kentucky cannot afford school personnel to continue retiring at age 49 and collecting more money in retirement than they earned or contributed while working, and for more years than they worked.

Having more going out than coming in will eventually cause any well to run dry.

Which is exactly what’s happening with Kentucky’s largest pension plans, whose funding will dry up in a few years without reforming their benefits’ structures.

Our retirement systems’ actuaries have known this for a long time and yet still have continued to recommend unaffordable benefits in the interest of keeping their own bread buttered.

Their political enablers in the General Assembly – most of whom have retired, leaving a new generation of lawmakers to deal with the fallout – also share blame.

Watch the TV show “American Greed” sometime and you will learn how we put people like Bernie Madoff in prison for building houses of cards with other folks’ money.

Now class, many of my colleagues think taking more in tax dollars out of your parents’ paychecks will fix the problem.

But how can I, as a teacher whose top concern is my students, support such an approach when it would mean even less money for your families to invest and send you to go to college?

Look at California out West or neighboring Illinois to see how raising taxes to fix bureaucrats’ and politicians’ pension screw-ups are causing an exodus of people and businesses.

Learn well, class.

The politicians in those states assumed everyone would stay and bail them out by paying their higher taxes.

Note: people and businesses vote with their feet and moving vans these days.

And remember, for class to be in session, there must be students with families able to pay the hefty tax bill required of pricey pension plans.

That’s it for today, class.

Tomorrow, we’ll focus on biology, specifically splitting the goose to see if we can grab all golden eggs before they disappear.

Jim Waters is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at and @bipps on Twitter.

More Articles: 

bottom of page