Lawmakers wrangle paying off KPERS debt

Capitol Bureau

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) — Lawmakers spent part of Tuesday debating the state’s pension system.

The state of Kansas owes billions of dollars to the state KPERS fund. Governor Kelly suggested a change that would lengthen the amount of time the state has to pay back the debt to 25 years while making smaller payments. Lawmakers in the House unanimously voted against the Governor’s wishes, removing the 25 year re-amortization portion of the bill.

“It’s kind of that kicking the can down the road mentality. It absolutely is not the right answer,” said Representative Stephen Owens, (R) Hesston. “The KPERS Board, that has that fiduciary responsibility,  has said that now is not the time to do that.”

Representative Brett Parker, (D) Overland Park introduced the bill on behalf of the Governor’s Office. Parker is a Kansas teacher and relies on KPERS for his retirement. He says the choice to support getting rid of the Governor’s re-amortization plan was made in order to save the rest of the bill.

“I believe there were two good parts to the bill and we were in a position where we might lose them both,” explained Parker. “The Republicans brought an amendment to the one part that we could all agree on and in the interest of passing one good policy measure, we went ahead and rallied around that.”

The bill will allocate just over 268 million dollars from the state general fund to the KPERS fund during the 2020 fiscal year. This money will go towards paying off the state debt owed to the KPERS fund, after borrowing money and failing to make payments in previous years.

Tuesday’s debate also left some retirees defeated. Lawmakers and retirees have been fighting for a cost of living adjustment (COLA) for KPERS members, many of whom have been asking for an increase in their pensions for years. In early February, Virgil Funk, a retired Kansas teacher and principal, came to the Capitol to fight for a COLA.

“I’m getting the same amount of money to the penny that I got in 1998,” said Funk, at the time.

However, all attempts to increase pension payouts failed on the House floor Tuesday.

“For the second year in a row it was voted down, mostly along party lines, which is disappointing because we have a lot of retirees who for 23 years haven’t received any sort of cost of living adjustment, despite rising expenses for them,” said Representative Parker.

The bill is expected to pass favorably out of the House and move on to the Senate.

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