Topeka — Kansas public employee retirees say they are long past due a cost of living increase on their pensions.
The last cost of living adjustment, or COLA, approved by the Legislature for members of the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System was in 1998.
"Since that time, according to the Consumer Price Index, the cost of living has increase by nearly 40 percent," said Dennis Phillips, who is chairman of the Kansas Coalition of Public Retirees.
"While we are sensitive to the budget problems of the state of Kansas, we believe that it is way past time for a COLA," Phillips said as the coalition released a report Thursday to the Legislature.
There are approximately 77,000 retired KPERS members. The coalition includes 39 groups including retirees formerly employed by state and local government and schools.
When the Legislature convenes its 2013 session on Jan. 14, lawmakers will face a projected $295 million budget shortfall for the next fiscal year.
Aside from the COLA issue, public retirees will be confronted by a move by the powerful Kansas Chamber of Commerce, which has said it will lobby the Legislature to move away from a traditional pension system and start a 401(k)-style plan for new teachers and government workers. Gov. Sam Brownback has voiced support for such a proposal.
Over the past two sessions, the Legislature has approved measures to deal with KPERS funding problems, but a proposal to move toward a 401(k)-style plan, where benefits are tied to investment earnings, failed earlier this year in the Senate on a 20-20 vote. Many of those moderate Republicans who voted against it have been replaced by candidates supported by the Kansas Chamber.
Public employee groups, including the Kansas Coalition of Public Retirees, oppose setting up a 401(k)-style pension plan, saying it will result in reduced benefits, and will fail to help reduce the unfunded liability within the KPERS system.