LETTER: Alvarado didn’t have evil intentions with vote for pension reform

Published 7:25 am Tuesday, April 17, 2018

A recent opinion piece from a local teacher had some harsh words for our state Senator, Dr. Ralph Alvarado, attacking both his policy positions and his personal integrity.

Alvarado deserves neither and I’d like to set the record straight.

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The author claims Alvarado supports “dismantling” teachers’ pensions. That is simply not true. The fact is, the Kentucky Teachers Retirement System has 18 percent of the funds necessary to pay its obligations to current and future retirees. Without structural changes, the system will go bankrupt and teachers’ will lose the retirement they were promised and have worked to earn. Alvarado is working to help save the system, not dismantle it.

The author attacked Alvarado for not supporting an increase in the cigarette tax as a way to fund the system. While increasing the cigarette tax is a great way to improve public health, it’s a horrible way to write a budget. The entire goal of increasing cigarette taxes is to discourage use, which will decrease sales and result in less revenue, not more. Discouraging people from smoking by raising the cigarette tax might be a laudable public health move, but tying pension funding to a measure that will actually decrease revenue is irresponsible.

The author accused Alvarado of voting for a bill that would “take hundreds of millions out of the teachers’ health insurance fund to pay for other state expenses.” While the author is right that the Senate budget took money from the fund, that fund is currently overfunded and the budget used the money to increase the state’s investment in the teachers’ retirement system. This freed up money to avoid even more drastic cuts in state services like education. They took money from one fund dedicated to teachers that had more money than it needed and moved it to one that is billions short in order to better fund education. That seems perfectly reasonable to me.

The most troubling part of his piece were his attacks on Alvarado’s personal integrity. If you believe the author, Alvarado is the pawn of some Illuminati-style cabal, driven by a deranged, feverish need to ruin the lives of teachers.

This is simply laughable.

The author’s bizarre rant was the worst of our political culture on display. The belief that if you don’t agree with me, it must be because you’re either corrupt or have evil intentions is what is wrong with our nation. I know Alvarado and I know he is a good man with good intentions.

We can disagree on how to solve this problem, or even disagree that there is a problem, but it’s counter-productive, mean-spirited and un-American to assume someone has sinister goals just because they disagree with you.

Make no mistake, this is not a problem of Alvarado’s creation but that doesn’t matter. We can spend our time pointing fingers or we can fix the problem, and that’s just was Alvarado is doing.

Kentucky teachers far outpace the majority of our neighboring states, both in pay and in retirement benefits; and they deserve it. If our state is ever going to move forward, we need an educated, skilled workforce to attract top employers; and we need great teachers to make it happen.

But we cannot cut off our nose to spite our face; some changes will need to be made. The other options, job-killing tax increases, junk status for state, city and county bonds, or drastic and disastrous cuts to education, infrastructure and public safety funding are not acceptable.

I hope the teachers’ union will stop spreading this sort of misinformation and conspiracy theories about the motivations of elected officials and come to the table to work to find a solution that will bring the brighter future our Commonwealth deserves.

Fredwyn Schwendeman