Kansas Political Columnist Martin Hawver

Hawver: Sounds Good

By Martin Hawver

Ever look at one of those new computer programs that sounds good? Like the ones to let you know whether the dog has jumped the fence? Or whether the cat is comfortable? Who doesn’t want that?

Well, after you hit the button and enter your credit card number, you get the chance to read a dozen pages of small type that are “terms and conditions.”

The Legislature doesn’t generally quickly hit the “agree” button, and this year, more than many years, there is a chance lawmakers aren’t going to hit that button on the governor’s budget.

Yes, the governor’s State of the State address sounded pretty good. More money for schools to finally get the state out of the lawsuit asserting that it isn’t “adequately” funding public schools, to protect the safety and security of children, and to swipe less money from the Kansas Department of Transportation so it can get back to building or at least improving the safety of roads and bridges.

That’s the program most of us want on our phones and computers, and generally in Kansas.

Those “terms and conditions” to get that program were explained in the budget that Gov. Laura Kelly presented on Thursday, and there are fingers on the “do not accept” button.

Key, of course, is her proposal to refinance the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System (KPERS), which those fun-loving actuaries say is “actuarially underfunded” by essentially stretching by 30 years the payments to make it “actuarially funded.”

That stretching of the state’s payments, as one does with a mortgage or car loan, will solve the problem, but at an interest cost that is large. That interest cost upsets conservatives, but the state doesn’t have the money to pay cash and stretching the payments by re-amortizing the fund eventually gets it to the place actuaries say it should be.

That refinancing of KPERS? It frees up millions of dollars now that can be used to settle the K-12 school finance problem that the Kansas Supreme Court seems very serious about and may reduce by about $100 million the money that is swept from the Kansas Department of Transportation budget so it can improve our transportation system.

Oh, and it also frees up money for Kelly’s insistence (that got her elected governor rather than conservative Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach?) that the state expand Medicaid (KanCare) health services to about 150,000 more poor Kansans and their children.

Republicans, who by numbers control the Legislature, don’t want that. They say it will cost the state too much money and it is a child of the “ObamaCare” Affordable Care Act that they oppose.

But, looking at Kelly’s one-year budget (rather than two-year, or biennial, budget that was thought up by former Republican Gov. Sam Brownback), it’s the KPERS refinancing that makes it work.

So, we’ll get conservatives who don’t want to refinance KPERS working to rile the 100,000 KPERS pension recipients and the 152,000 Kansans who are paying into the system to battle the governor and her supporters.

And, we’ll see whether parents of schoolchildren who want schools to stay open side with the governor since the KPERS savings will be used to meet Supreme Court orders on school finance. We’ll also maybe see roadbuilders who get more work by cutting the swiping of highway money decide that 30 years is about right for KPERS financing.

This might be interesting this year. Now, where’s the dog, and is the cat happy?

Syndicated by Hawver News Company LLC of Topeka; Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver’s Capitol Report—to learn more about this nonpartisan statewide political news service, visit the website at www.hawvernews.com