KPERS studies increase in retirement age

Public employees would have to work until age 65

? Public employees would be unable to retire with full benefits until age 65 under a proposal being considered by the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System.

Glenn Deck, executive director of KPERS, said a new retirement plan is needed as a cost-savings measure because retirees are living longer and drawing more deferred benefits, and the state’s contribution rate to the system lags behind what is needed.

Deck emphasized that if a new plan were approved by the Legislature, it would apply only to employees hired after the plan went into effect, not those already working.

He said the proposed changes are needed for the long-term health of the system, noting that KPERS’ investments just ended a banner year of approximately 12 percent profit.

“I think you’re on the right track,” Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, told Deck during a meeting of a House-Senate committee on pensions and benefits.

Morris, who is chair of that committee, said proposing a new retirement plan is the “No. 1 priority” for the panel.

KPERS is the pension system for state employees, counties, school districts and most cities, including Lawrence, except for public safety workers. It has $12.2 billion in assets that it invests on behalf of 250,000 members, approximately one in 12 Kansans.

Currently, KPERS members can retire as early as age 55 if they have 30 years of service.

But increasing life expectancy and a wave of Baby Boomers either at or nearing retirement age will create a drain on the system, Deck said.

Deck said increasing the age for retirement has been considered by other public pension systems, including the federal government, which has raised the age at which people can get Social Security benefits.

Mark Tallman, a lobbyist for the Kansas Association of School Boards, said he supported the committee looking at changes.

“It’s something that needs to be done,” Tallman said.

Mark Desetti, a lobbyist for the Kansas-National Education Assn., said his group would maintain an “open mind.”

But, he said, a new retirement plan that was considered during the last legislative session “made people work longer for lower benefits.”

That measure stalled in committee.

KPERS officials said they hope to provide a final recommendation to the committee in September.