Shedding light on representation, SB1

Published 11:13 am Wednesday, March 28, 2018

I want to thank Sen. Ralph Alvarado for meeting with me, a concerned constituent and teacher in Clark County, and discussing the teachers’ pension system March 20 in his office at the Capitol Annex building in Frankfort.

When we met, I gave him a petition signed by 292 educators in Clark County in the hope he would agree to our demand that our legislators support the teachers’ retirement system in its current structure.

Teachers, who are not eligible for Social Security benefits, rely on our pensions as the primary source of income for our retirement. Our pensions are currently under threat because the legislature failed to adequately fund the system.

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Now, I’d like to take the time to reflect on Alvarado’s recent words and deeds and inform the public as to the nature of his stance on this very important issue.

First, he supported the dismantling of teachers’ pensions with his vote for Senate Bill 1 (SB1) in his subcommittee.

Furthermore, he voted to reduce teachers’ cost of living adjustments (COLA) as a part of our pension, and failed to address the lack of revenue in terms of fully funding the pension system. Though the bill did not pass in that form because of the outcry of educators, Alvarado’s visible support for SB1 and COLA cuts was duly noted.

He also voted in support of the Senate’s version of the budget. He voted to take hundreds of millions out of the teachers’ health insurance fund to pay for other state expenses; consequently, health insurance premiums will likely increase for teachers next year.

With this vote, Alvarado became the latest in a long line of lawmakers to pilfer funds allocated to teachers and paid for by teachers in order to pay for things he, as a legislator, should have had the courage to fund by finding new sources of revenue. This type of action is largely the reason why the pension system has gone unfunded for years.

Additionally, Alvarado did not vote to increase cigarette taxes as a new source of revenue, as he said he would one day earlier in the meeting with me, nor did he vote to find new sources of revenue to fully fund the pension and other state obligations.

It has also recently come to my attention Alvarado participated in workshops provided by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the undemocratic, plutocratic legislative-training organization that advocates for, among other things, the dismantling and privatization of vital public programs.

ALEC, which is one of the ideological progenitors of SB1 and the Senate’s budget proposal, and which is funded by major corporations and the super-rich from outside Kentucky — like ExxonMobil and the billionaire Koch brothers — has a financial interest in dismantling and privatizing public pensions and schools. The key element in ALEC-inspired legislation is the process of lowering the tax obligations of the super-rich — those who do not rely on public schools, a stable pension or affordable health care; those who never have to worry about making ends meet.

Corporations and the super-rich fund organizations like ALEC to run workshops for politicians, create model legislation and train legislators to pass laws in state legislatures.

In the end, the rich get richer while public employees get less wages, fewer retirement benefits and more expensive health care. In addition, the public gets poorer schools and dilapidated roads and bridges.

Organizations like ALEC and their partners in Kentucky’s legislature — you, Senator Alvarado — work on behalf of the wealthiest and most powerful against the interests of the middle and working classes.

Timely and appropriately, ALEC named Alvarado “Legislator of the Week” on March 19, roughly a week before he voted for SB1 and two days before he voted for the Senate’s budget.

After doing a little research, I found Alvarado’s senate campaign was supported by wealthy Kentucky donors who have a financial interest in changing the public pension system. Some of the top donors to his campaign included Jess Correll, founder of First Southern National Bank; Donald Ball Jr., owner of Ball Homes; Charter Communications (cable company); Amgen (pharmaceuticals); Jack Wells, owner of Wells Health Systems (nursing homes); Michael Rust, President of the Kentucky Hospital Association (lobbying group for hospitals); Wellcare Inc. (health care); Lifepoint Health (hospitals) and Terry Forcht, the banking (Forcht Bank), radio station and nursing home magnate.

Forcht and his wife, along with the president of his company, Debbie Reynolds, were three of the top individual donors to Alvarado’s campaign.

Forcht recently co-signed a letter from some prominent Kentucky businesspeople and others urging state senators to pass a pension reform bill that would transform the system ala SB1. Signees included Mac Brown, retired vice president of Brown-Forman Corp. (alcoholic beverages); Bill Samuels Jr., chairman emeritus of Makers Mark; Jim Stuckert, former chairman and chief executive of investment firm Hilliard Lyons; Ed Glasscock, chairman emeritus of Frost Brown Todd (law firm); and Ann Wells, chairwoman and co-chief executive of Commonwealth Bank & Trust.

For Forcht, the wealthy contributors to your campaign, and the wealthy signees to this letter, converting public pensions to a 401k-defined contribution plan means reducing the possibility of higher taxes to their individual and corporate fortunes to help pay for public pensions.

When I met with Alvarado in his office at the capitol March 20, he refused to agree to support the petition I delivered to him on behalf of nearly 300 Clark County teachers.

Put simply, Sen. Alvarado, refused to pledge his support in defending the teachers’ retirement system, yet Clark County educators are the type of people you are supposed to represent, not ALEC, their billionaire backers or Forcht Bank.

I write in the hope something can be done to change what is currently happening in the Kentucky legislature.

The people, including all the hard-working teachers, administrators, classified staff, the parents of students and anyone else who is concerned about the future of education in Kentucky, deserve to know how they are being represented in Frankfort as of late.

I hope this information is illuminating to all who read it. My time reading about Alvarado, and talking with him and watching him in action has certainly enlightened me.

Brian Foudray is a teacher at George Rogers Clark High School.