TOPEKA — Representatives of numerous government employee groups on Thursday urged legislators to reject a move to replace the current public pension system with a 401(k)-type plan.
“Quite simply, the best of the best state workers will seek employment elsewhere if both salaries and benefits are sub-par,” Gary Adkins, executive director of the State Employees Association of Kansas, told the Senate KPERS Committee.
Adkins was joined by representatives of the Kansas Coalition of Public Retirees, Kansas Association of Chiefs of Police, Kansas Sheriffs Association, Kansas Peace Officers Association and the Fraternal Order of Police.
Law officials said proposed pension changes could increase the normal retirement age, which would jeopardize the public.
“We don’t believe the public wants the safety or the safety of their family dependent on an aging officer who stays in the profession simply because the retirement system will penalize them if they retire,” said Ed Klump, a former Topeka police chief and now lobbyist for several of the law enforcement groups.
The Kansas Legislature is considering a proposal to start a 401(k)-style plan for new teachers and government workers under the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System, which faces long-term funding problems. Gov. Sam Brownback supports the switch.
But employee groups say changing the system will end up costing the state more in the long run, fails to address the unfunded liability within KPERS and will leave retirees with inadequate benefits.
In addition, the League of Kansas Municipalities told the Senate committee that its segment of the KPERS system was in relatively good financial shape. “There is no urgency to make any changes to the local government KPERS group,” Sandy Jacquot, general counsel for LKM said.
State Sen. Jeff King, R-Independence, who produced a KPERS study commission report that calls for the 401(k)-style plan, said revamping the system was necessary to respond to the “changing demographics of the Kansas workforce.” He added, “People change jobs frequently. We have a retirement system now that is sufficiently inflexible.”
But Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, said the proposed change will have negative results. “We will have a bunch of poor, old Kansans,” Kelly said.
The committee made a procedural move that will bring up a new bill and continue the debate. “The process is quite a ways from getting there,” said Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton.
Earlier in the day, petitions signed by more than 6,400 school employees in Johnson County protesting the proposed KPERS change were delivered to Brownback’s office.