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Kansas Senators Vote To Spend $115 Million On Delayed Pension Payment

Stephen Koranda
KPR/File photo

Kansas senators say the state should make a missed payment to the pension system, but some lawmakers are concerned about spending the money before they’ve finished the state budget.

Senators gave initial approval to pay $115 million to make up for a payment the state skipped in 2016 to help balance the budget. Republican Rick Billinger said during the debate Monday that Kansas can afford it now.

“We have an opportunity today to make sure that the folks in Kansas know that when we make a promise we’re going to stand behind it," he said.

Democrats in the Senate raised concerns it could cut into funds for Medicaid expansion or schools.

Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly agrees that there’s enough money for this delayed pension payment too.

“We owe that to KPERS," she told reporters Monday. "There’s money in the budget to take care of that."

Kelly, however, is still pushing to refinance the pension system to make future payments more manageable, despite opposition from Republicans in the Legislature.

Kelly made her pitch to public sector retirees Monday at a rally. She said extending the payoff schedule for KPERS debt would make the state’s payments more manageable.

“What we’re doing does not in any way jeopardize future retiree payments," she told the crowd. "In fact, it makes sure that the state can meet its obligation to you and to all future retirees.”

Republican leaders say Kelly’s plan likely won’t make it out of committee. They worry about the added costs of extending the payoff.

Republican Rep. Steven Johnson, chair of the pension committee, said restructuring the debt might be a good idea, but lawmakers should wait and let the board that oversees KPERS study it first.

Stephen Koranda is Statehouse reporter for Kansas Public Radio, a partner in the Kansas News Service. Follow him on Twitter @kprkoranda. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to the original post.

Stephen Koranda is Statehouse reporter for Kansas Public Radio and the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, KMUW, Kansas Public Radio and High Plains Radio covering health, education and politics.