A coalition of government retirees rallied for support Monday of a cost-of-living adjustment for participants in the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System.
Dennis Phillips, co-chairman of the Kansas Coalition of Public Retirees, said 310,000 state and local government employees and retirees in KPERS ought to have benefits adjusted to reflect inflation. The state doesn't provide an automatic COLA in the retirement system.
He said retirees in the pension system could receive about $11,000 a year, but the benefit level hadn’t changed in nearly 20 years. Under House Bill 2100, KPERS retirees would be provided a COLA ranging from 1 percent to 3 percent, depending on when the individual retired.
An increase of $10 a month would be meaningful to people on a fixed income, Phillips said.
“Ninety percent of the money that goes to the retirees stays here in the state of Kansas,” he said. “That money is being invested right back into our state’s economy.”
About 100 members of the coalition gathered in the rotunda of the Capitol to hear from Gov. Laura Kelly, Lt. Gov. Lynn Rogers and several members of the Legislature.
Kelly, a Democrat who took office in January, proposed reamortization of KPERS’ debt. In general terms, it could be compared to refinancing debt on a home.
Republican leaders of the House and Senate have expressed skepticism about reamortization. House Speaker Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe, told retirees it would be “politically expedient” to free $145 million annually for other demands on the state budget, but diverting the contributions to KPERS would require infusion of billions of dollars over 30 years to make up for the shortfall.
Kelly, the first governor to address coalition members, said the state would uphold its financial commitments to retirees even if the retirement fund’s debt was reamortized. She made no promise to support a COLA.
“We will make sure the state upholds its responsibility and obligation to retirees,” Kelly said. “Reamortization is a safe and sound fiscal tool. And, no, I didn’t do this because I need it for the budget.”
Rep. Steven Johnson, a Republican from Assaria, said he was an opponent of Kelly’s reamortization solution, because he thinks it would end up costing the state more down the road. Johnson praised KPERS for benefits it offered members.
The Legislature has made progress in recent years to narrow the unfunded liability in KPERS and should delay steps to refinance the system, he said.
Rep. Gail Finney, a Democrat from Wichita, said she would support a COLA for members of KPERS.
“I’m so worried about our retirees,” she said. “Ten dollars may not sound like a lot to some of you, but when you have a fixed income $10 makes a huge difference.”