Teacher win: Ken­tucky House over­rides veto of tax in­crease

Austin American-Statesman - - MORE OF TODAY’S TOP NEWS - By Bruce Schreiner and Adam Beam

With the chants of hun­dreds of teach­ers ring­ing in their ears, Ken­tucky House law­mak­ers voted Fri­day to over­ride the Repub­li­can gov­er­nor’s veto of a $480 mil­lion tax in­crease that fu­els record spend­ing in pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion.

More than 30 school dis­tricts across the state were forced to close as thou­sands of teach­ers ral­lied at the Capi­tol, join­ing the cho­rus of teacher protests across the coun­try. Teach­ers de­scended on the state­house wear­ing red T-shirts and car­ry­ing signs that said “I love my pub­lic school.”

The rally took on a fes­ti­val-like at­mos­phere as some teach­ers sat in lawn chairs or sprawled out on blan­kets. Crosby Stills, Nash and Young’s hit “Teach Your Chil­dren” bel­lowed from the loud­speak­ers.

“I don’t want to be out of my class­room. I want to be in my class­room in­struct­ing fu­ture cit­i­zens, but I’m afraid that spend­ing at the state level is get­ting worse and worse, and we need those dol­lars for a 21st cen­tury ed­u­ca­tion,” said Stephanie Ikanovic, who has been a teacher for 21 years.

The two-year op­er­at­ing bud­get in­cludes record new spend­ing for pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion, fu­eled by a 50-cent in­crease in the cig­a­rette tax and a 6 per­cent sales tax on some ser­vices in­clud­ing home and auto re­pair. But Repub­li­can Gov. Matt Bevin ve­toed both the bud­get and the money in it, call­ing the bills “sloppy” and “non­trans­par­ent.” He said they would not raise enough money to cover the new spend­ing.

The veto put Repub­li­can law­mak­ers in a tough po­si­tion, ask­ing them to vote a sec­ond time on a tax in­crease in an elec­tion year. But 57 Repub­li­cans ea­gerly voted to over­ride, as­sert­ing their in­de­pen­dence af­ter a tu­mul­tuous year marred by a sex­ual harass­ment scan­dal.

“You can stand here all day and act like you are all for (ed­u­ca­tion) un­til it comes time to pay for it. Well that’s a cow­ard,” said Repub­li­can Rep. Regina Huff, a mid­dle school spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion teacher. “We have to have this rev­enue to fund our schools.”

Six Repub­li­cans voted with Democrats to ap­prove the veto. The Repub­li­can-con­trolled state Se­nate will take up the veto next.

Bevin fol­lowed the de­bate closely, re­spond­ing to law­mak­ers’ speeches with tweets. He said he met with House and Se­nate lead­ers all week to pro­pose a more “re­spon­si­ble way to pay for 100 per­cent of the re­quested ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing.”

“Crick­ets,” Bevin tweeted, adding he vowed to call a spe­cial ses­sion to pass a new bud­get if law­mak­ers ap­proved his ve­toes.

Repub­li­can Rep. Jeff Hoover told his col­leagues not to trust Bevin, re­mind­ing them the gov­er­nor promised to call a spe­cial ses­sion last year to change the state’s strug­gling pen­sion sys­tem, but never did.

“The only rea­son we did not have a spe­cial ses­sion last year is be­cause Jeff Hoover, a mar­ried man, was sex­u­ally in­volved with a very young, sin­gle mem­ber of his staff and was pay­ing hush money to hide his ac­tions,” Bevin re­sponded on Twit­ter.

Hoover re­signed his lead­er­ship po­si­tion in Jan­uary. Tues­day, he agreed to pay a $1,000 fine and a pub­lic rep­ri­mand from the Leg­isla­tive Ethics Com­mis­sion.

The un­rest comes amid teacher protests in Ok­la­homa and Ari­zona over low fund­ing and teacher pay. The demon­stra­tions were in­spired by West Vir­ginia teach­ers, whose nine-day walk­out af­ter many years with­out raises led to a 5 per­cent pay hike.

In Ari­zona, af­ter weeks of teacher protests and walk­out threats across the state, Gov. Doug Ducey promised a net 20 per­cent raise by 2020.

In Ok­la­homa, teach­ers ended two weeks of walk­outs Thurs­day, shift­ing their fo­cus to elect­ing pro-ed­u­ca­tion can­di­dates in Novem­ber. Gov. Mary Fallin signed leg­is­la­tion rais­ing teacher salaries by about $6,100 and pro­vid­ing mil­lions in new ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing, but many say schools need more money.

Ken­tucky teach­ers haven’t asked for a raise. They are in­stead fo­cused on a bat­tle over their pen­sions. Ken­tucky has one of the worstfunded pen­sion sys­tems in the coun­try, with the state at least $41 bil­lion short of what it needs to pay re­tire­ment ben­e­fits over the next 30 years.

BILL PUGLIANO / GETTY IM­AGES

Ken­tucky school­teach­ers rally for a “day of ac­tion” Fri­day at Ken­tucky’s capi­tol. More than 30 school dis­tricts in the state were forced to close as thou­sands of teach­ers par­tic­i­pated in the rally, part of a cho­rus of teacher protests across the coun­try.

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