Rep. Jene Vickrey
Last week had three long days of session with Wednesday being the deadline for non-exempt bills to be passed out of the House. This means that any bill not from Appropriations, Federal and State Affairs, or Taxation must be passed out
otherwise it will be killed and no longer considered in the legislative session. The major issues included KPERS, Education funding, and a new transportation secretary.
As I have been discussing all session, the state of the KPERS system is not good. We have a serious underfunded liability and if we don’t act as a legislature in a serious way the problem will get worse. To address this, the House passed out SB 259 which would take several steps to reform the system making it sustainable for future employees and retirees.
The major changes are for new employees entering the system after Jan.1, 2014. These new employees will be recipients of a cash balance plan where the contribution rate for employees is set at six percent of annual compensation and is deducted pre-tax. The employer will match the contribution with a four percent pay credit. The employer rate is “service based” and will be contributed at one percent the first year and increase a point each year until in year four, when the maximum of four percent is achieved.
It is important to note that current KPERS members or pension recipients will not be affected.
To help alleviate some of the current KPERS debt the House added a requirement to spend 75 percent of state casino money to reduce the unfunded liability of the KPERS trust fund. Another provision would give employees the option of a 401(k) style plan which will give the option of higher returns with market conditions but not provide a guaranteed rate of return.
There have been many different plans proposed to address the problems with KPERS. This option has drawn on many of the proposals the legislature has come up with. The final result is a good bill which will provide employees with choice as well as the confidence to know their retirement money will be there.
The House extended policy enacted last year to allow school districts to spend unencumbered funds from several accounts to meet funding shortfalls in other areas of their budget. This legislation will free up some $358 million across the state for school districts to use to address any local issue necessary. It gives school districts the discretion to decide where the money needs to be spent.
This policy was enacted last year by the House but few school districts used the money however more than 90 percent of districts have this money available. The legislature decided to extend this policy to allow more school districts to spend down these accounts to meet local needs.
This week the house worked a bill by the House Redistricting committee to redraw the lines for the state’s four congressional districts. During debate on the floor the map was amended to divide the districts in a different way which would not separate Kansas City. The original map did divide Kansas City. The map ended up failing on final action which means the House Redistricting Committee will again have to pass a map to the House which should happen this week. The House Redistricting Committee will meet again on Monday.
A new study from the Center for Public Integrity released this week ranked Kansas 9th in the nation in transparent government. The study looked at the public’s ability to access their government and the information held therein concentrating on each branch of government as well as transparency in how the state spends taxpayer money. The state scored the best in the redistricting category but recommended improvement in the areas of KPERS and insurance regulations.
This week the House will be focused on conference committees between the House and Senate on some of the major issues of the session including taxes and the budget. After each of the bills which are in conference is passed out the report they generate goes back to each house for approval. After they are approved by both chambers the bill then goes to the governor’s desk. It will be a busy and important week in the legislature as we begin to wrap up many of the major legislative issues.
Rep. Jene Vickrey represents part of Spring Hill in the Kansas House.