- Associated Press - Thursday, January 12, 2017

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s budget-balancing proposals to reduce the state’s short-term spending on public pensions would increase the retirement system’s long-term costs by $6.5 billion over the next three decades, the system’s top administrator told legislators Thursday.

Lawmakers also received a report showing that state-issued debt has increased significantly in recent years, and the House passed a bill rewriting the laws that govern special congressional elections.

Here is a look at significant legislative developments Thursday.

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PENSION PLAN REVIEWED

Alan Conroy, executive director of the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System, said that under Brownback’s pension proposals, the state would take longer to close a long-term gap in its funding for retirement benefits and spend more annually in future years to do it.

Conroy briefed the Senate Ways and Means Committee on the effects of Brownback’s proposals. The governor wants to continue contribution rates for the fiscal year that ended in June 2016 through June 2019, rather than having them rise annually in line with a 2012 law.

The 2012 law moved the state toward closing its long-term funding gap - now $8.5 billion - in 2033. Brownback’s plan is to extend the pay-off for another 10 years.

Conroy said the short-term savings would be $596 million through June 2019, as the state faces budget shortfalls totaling $1.1 billion.

But, he added, “It’s like the mortgage on the house. If you don’t pay it now, you’re going to pay more later and over a longer period of time.”

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DEBATE OVER PENSIONS

Conroy’s briefing for the Senate committee prompted Chairwoman Carolyn McGinn, a Sedgwick Republican, to describe Brownback’s proposals as “paying more money to put things off.”

“We should quit messing with KPERS,” McGinn said. “If we would not touch it, we will be solvent.”

Asked about such criticism, Brownback told reporters Thursday that his administration should get credit for boosting state contributions to the pension system. He listed improving the system’s long-term health as a top priority for him ahead of the 2012 law.

As for lawmakers who are unhappy with his proposals, he said “I’m happy to see what they put forward.”

“Let’s see what their options are,” he said.

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STATE DEBT REPORT

The Senate Ways and Means Committee also received a report showing that since July 2010, the amount of debt to be paid off with state tax dollars has increased 40 percent to nearly $4.5 billion. The report came from the Kansas Development Finance Authority, which handles bonds and other debt financing for many state agencies.

“Overall, this state probably should not be considered a low-debt state anymore,” said Jim MacMurray, a KDFA senior vice president.

A May 2016 report by the credit rating agency Moody’s Investors Service said Kansas has tax-supported debt of $1,534 per person and ranks 17th in the nation.

Kansas issued $1 billion in bonds in 2015 to bolster its public pension system and has issued nearly $1.2 billion in bonds for highway projects since July 2010.

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SPECIAL ELECTIONS

The elections bill approved by the House arose from Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo’s nomination by President-elect Donald Trump as Central Intelligence Agency director. If Pompeo is confirmed by the U.S. Senate, the 4th District in south-central Kansas would have the state’s first special congressional election since 1950.

State law says a special election must occur from 45 to 60 days after the governor declares a vacancy. The bill would make the window from 75 to 90 days so military personnel and other Kansas residents overseas have more time to receive and return ballots.

The House vote was 122-1 and sent the measure to the Senate, where quick consideration also is expected.

Local Democratic and Republican activists would pick their parties’ nominees.

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Follow John Hanna on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apjdhanna .


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