Gov. Laura Kelly signed her first bill as Kansas' chief executive Friday to deliver $115 million to the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System and make up for a missed payment several years ago when emergency steps were taken to balance the budget.
The Democratic governor signed Senate Bill 9 after it was approved by 40-0 by the Senate and 117-0 by the House.
"I very much support it," she said. "It is a step in the right direction. And I am encouraged that lawmakers are now committed to improving the long-term stability and sustainability of our KPERS pension system."
Rep. Les Mason, R-McPherson, said the $115 million appropriation, which covers principal and interest on the debt, made sense given current flow of revenue to the state treasury. A state income tax hike in 2017 has significantly raised government revenue.
"Now that we have a healthy ending balance," Mason said, "it seems like the appropriate time to signal our retirees that we support them."
Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, said consideration of the delayed payment to KPERS should have been addressed after lawmakers completed a thorough discussion of the state's overall budget.
Kelly, a former state senator from Topeka, said "as a budget wonk" it was thrilling to know the first bill signed during her administration paid down debt.
She said taking care of the payment missed in 2016 while Republican Sam Brownback was governor didn't dilute the imperative to consider refinancing KPERS in the future before employer contributions to the system reached nearly $1 billion annually.
"That is not sustainable and we will have to find a solution together," she said. "There's no way we can cut a billion-dollar check."
Kelly, standing with retire state employees and beneficiaries of KPERS, said payments to the state pension system had been delayed, tweaked or eliminated 15 times during the past nine years.