KC pension reform stumbles ahead
The Kansas City Star
After months of closed-door meetings and spending tens of thousands of public dollars on consultants, Kansas City officials this week finally are supposed to put forward a pension reform policy.
Unfortunately, the information that taxpayers want and deserve to see may not be in the report given to the City Council on Thursday.
Union and pension leaders of the city’s four retirement systems haven’t yet put their final plans on the table. The vagueness upsets council member Jan Marcason, who appropriately is pressuring for the most details possible.
“They could give us their best offers for pensions,” Marcason said of officials representing the fire union, police and other city employees. And if that doesn’t happen? Marcason said City Manager Troy Schulte should plow ahead and set a budget for next year based on how much in taxpayer funds he thinks should be spent on pensions. That budget proposal is due mid-January.
Of course, some union leaders and city pension officials don’t want to be told what to do by the council or top city staff. They’d like to hold out as long as they can against major changes. Pension leaders for firefighters have been especially recalcitrant, according to Schulte and Mayor Sly James.
Delays are irresponsible.
The city’s unfunded pension liabilities soared from $559 million to $611 million between 2011 and 2012. Taxpayers simply can’t afford the present system.
Schulte said he ultimately hoped reforms would run along the lines of what a task force of business leaders recommended in 2011:
Increase the employee contribution rate.
Don’t require an automatic annual cost-of-living adjustment for retirees.
Require employees to work longer to increase their final retirement pay.
Create a defined contribution system, like a 401(k), for some management employees.
Schulte added that pensions for new employees hired after a certain date also would be less rich than current ones. That’s sensible.
The city needs to make sure it provides reasonable retirement benefits to loyal employees while not putting too great a burden on residents — many of whom don’t even have pensions.