Whitesburg KY

Chamber wants teachers, state workers to pay more


State employees should be asked to pay more of their health insurance costs to help ease the strain on a state budget facing grim prospects, the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce said.

The business group said state workers receive more generous benefits than most private employees, and that state government’s cost for public employee health insurance soared by 174 percent in the past decade.

Chamber President Dave Adkisson said this week that the current trend is “unsustainable,” The Courier-Journal of Louisville reported.

Adkisson said that requiring state workers to contribute $50 a month more for health coverage would save the state $94 million and would not cost employees the full amount because those contributions are exempt from taxes.

“The budget outlook is grim, and we believe reasonable changes in public employee health benefits could generate nearly $200 million in savings in the 2010-12 budget,” he said.

The chamber’s proposal was criticized by Lee Jackson, president of the Kentucky Association of State Employees, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported.

“We would oppose any attempt to tinker with state workers’ health care benefits,” he said.

Sharron Oxendine, president of the Kentucky Education Association, told the Lexington newspaper that the chamber’s proposals “amount to a prescription for balancing the budget of the commonwealth on the backs of its employees — including its teachers and other public school employees.”

A study released by the chamber said state government spending on health insurance for its workers, retirees and teachers has grown five times faster than the rate of overall state spending since 2000.

The study found that the state’s average monthly per-employee contribution for health insurance increased from $221 in 2000 to more than $600 this fiscal year.

Gov. Steve Beshear and legislative leaders voiced appreciation for the chamber’s work but took a wait-and-see approach.

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