Politics & Government

Pension legislation talks stall after push for vote

TOPEKA — Work on pension legislation stalled Tuesday when Kansas House members pressed for a vote in the Senate on creating a 401(k)-style retirement plan for teachers and government workers instead of studying the idea.

Senate negotiators resisted, and the chamber's top Democrat insisted House members should vote on senators' version of legislation addressing long-term funding problems facing the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System.

The three senators and three House members ended their talks for the day without scheduling another meeting.

KPERS projects a $7.7 billion gap between anticipated revenue and benefits promised to public employees through 2033. Both chambers have approved bills to increase the state's annual contributions to KPERS, starting July 1, 2013, though by different amounts.

Many House Republicans contend the state cannot sustain its traditional retirement plans, which guarantee a worker's retirement benefits up front, based on salary and years of experience, rather than tying benefits to investment earnings, like 401(k) plans. Senate GOP leaders argue that setting up a commission to conduct a study this year would bring public employees and business leaders with pensions expertise into the debate more fully.

Senators have suggested that their chamber wouldn't approve the House's plan. It would require teachers and government employees hired after June 2013 to join the new 401(k)-style plan and cut future benefits of other workers if they don't opt to participate.

The Senate hasn't voted on a 401(k)-style plan, and House Pensions and Benefits Committee Chairman Mitch Holmes, a St. John Republican who is his chamber's lead negotiator, told senators it's time to test their assumption.

"I think it has a better chance than what we're assuming," Holmes said after the talks broke off Tuesday.

Sen. Jeff King, R-Independence, his chamber's lead negotiator, said a majority there may support moving to a 401(k)-style plan but not the House's proposal, making a study beneficial.

"There are a wide range of choices," he said.

Democrats and public employee groups strongly oppose starting a 401(k)-style plan, fearing it will make workers' benefits less secure and less lucrative.