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Kansas House Votes To Limit Shorting Pension Contributions

Republican Gov. Sam Brownback's authority to temporarily short Kansas' contributions to public pensions would be limited under a budget-balancing measure the Kansas House was debating Wednesday.

The bill would eliminate a projected deficit of nearly $200 million in the state's $16.1 billion budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

It would allow the governor to act before July 1 to reduce the state's contributions to the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System to keep the budget balanced without cutting other spending. KPERS provides pensions for teachers and government workers.

But the House voted 89-34 to add a requirement that any such reduction be paid back by Sept. 30, with 8 percent interest. Also, the governor could not reduce or delay contributions to KPERS during the next fiscal year, something governors have been allowed to do in the past.

Rep. Steve Johnson, an Assaria Republican, said the new restriction would protect the public pension system after lawmakers worked in recent years to stabilize its long-term financial health.

But Democratic Rep. Ed Trimmer, of Winfield, was skeptical that any shorting of KPERS contributions would be paid back.

"I don't trust it," he said, adding that if lawmakers believed the promise, "I've got land I'd like to sell you for a bridge."

The budget bill contains many of Brownback's proposals to eliminate the gap in the next state budget by shuffling state funds and capturing unanticipated savings.

But it also breaks with Brownback's proposals by adding an additional $2.4 million to the next budget to give uniformed corrections officers at state prisons a 2.5 percent pay raise. It contains an additional $3 million for the state's two mental hospitals to help them with staffing and other issues. The Senate expects to debate its own budget-balancing plan Thursday.