By Jim Waters Bluegrass Beacon

Tim Abrams, executive director of the Kentucky Retired Teachers Association, in an article in The Frankfort State Journal purported to respond to my recent column which noted that protesters who marched on Frankfort against the mild pension legislation passed during this year's General Assembly don't really want to reform Kentucky's retirement systems.

I opined that this whole scenario "seems much more about partisan politics than trying to solve the biggest financial problem facing Kentucky."

My supporting evidence for that statement is the fact that protesters showed up en masse against the Republican governor and GOP-led legislature when they fully funded Kentucky's retirement systems for the first time in history -- even raising taxes to do it -- while trying to implement a new system for new teachers yet offered nary a peep when Bevin's predecessor, Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear, with whom the protesters are politically aligned, did little to fix the problem while allowing pension liabilities to grow by $1 billion annually.

Abrams near the end of his article states the pension debate "isn't about partisan politics or political advantage. This is about what is right and what is wrong."

I would add "should."

The pension debate should be about right and wrong, not political advantage.

However, the Kentucky Education Association -- the state teachers' union -- has failed to come to the table and work toward actually solving the problem, instead being unwilling even to agree to downsizing unpromised and unaffordable sick-day benefits, all the while charging policymakers trying to save their system with having ulterior motives, including completely destroying the commonwealth's public education system.

For anti-reform talking heads and advocacy groups, this indeed is all about "partisan politics" and "political advantage."

Abrams himself is a contributor, perhaps unconsciously, to their efforts by making misleading statements like: "Frankfort politicians would rather ask a retired teacher who earns an average paid benefit of $33,000 with no Social Security income to sacrifice because of lawmakers' failures."

This parrots protesters' angry responses that we reformers overstate the generosity of government retirees' benefits.

Protesters and union chiefs seeking political gain also imbed such flawed claims into their talking points.

After all, no reasonable Kentuckian considers $33,000 an exorbitant annual retirement income for a teacher who spent her entire career in the classroom.

Yet while this may be anti-reformers' chosen method of picking up votes against conservatives in the fall election, it's a defective statement bordering on dishonesty in that it fails to include the fact that the $33,000 average incorporates benefits paid to all individuals in the system -- even if they only worked for a few years.

Plus, it leaves the impression that the $33,000 average benefit is what career teachers receive in retirement.

However, there's quite a chasm between an employee who spent five years in the system and may collect a $10,000 annual benefit versus a career teacher with 30 years of service who, in many cases, will get a yearly payout exceeding $50,000.

But add all benefits to the same pot, stir and voilà!

Granted, $33,000 aligns with the anti-reformers' political purposes much more smoothly than $50,000.

It certainly favors their narrative more than the current reality that Teachers' Retirement System benefit payouts encourage Kentucky's most experienced teachers not to remain on the job since their spendable income the first year after retiring will exceed what they earned during their final year in the classroom.

Can you blame teachers for taking advantage of such a generous policy?

And can you blame groups like unions and the associations who depend on teachers' paying their dues and toe

Ing the party line for opposing the kind of transparency that would allow taxpayers, voters and policymakers to get a truer picture of the kind of benefits career teachers actually receive?

Jim Waters is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky's free-market think tank. Read previous columns at He can be reached at and @bipps on Twitter.