Topeka Retiree and public employee groups in Kansas are contemplating a lawsuit against a law enacted this year that would force teachers and government workers to make concessions on their pensions to address the state retirement system’s long-term funding problems.
The law would force most employees covered by the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System to choose between paying a higher percentage of their salaries toward their pensions and having their future benefits reduced. Workers hired after June 2009 wouldn’t face higher contributions, but they’d be required to choose one of two alternatives for cutting their benefits.
Many state officials have long assumed that past Kansas Supreme Court rulings prevent the state from going too far in cutting future retirement benefits. But KPERS projects a $7.7 billion shortfall between its anticipated revenues and the benefits promised to workers through 2033, and this year’s changes would help close that gap.
The retiree and public employee groups already have consulted with attorneys, said Jane Carter, executive director of the Kansas Organization of State Employees, which is part of a coalition on pension issues, Keeping the Kansas Promise.
“I think that is something that we will address as a group and figure out where to go,” she said.
Leaders of the Republican-controlled Legislature have anticipated that retiree and public employee groups might file a lawsuit over the KPERS changes. House Speaker Mike O’Neal, a Hutchinson Republican and an attorney, compared the threat of a legal challenge to the threat facing any major project inspiring heated debate.
“When you build a power plant, you expect somebody to file suit,” O’Neal said. “Every side has the right to have those legal issues evaluated.”