House Republicans delivered a blow Thursday to Gov. Laura Kelly's plan to refinance the state pension system, voting it down over objections by Democrats who accused their rivals of playing political games.
GOP leadership fast-tracked the legislation to the House floor a day earlier by suspending committee rules and substituting members of the panel for the purposes of getting the plan before the full chamber.
Kelly wants to take the amount the state owes to the Kansas Public Employee Retirement System, which is scheduled to be paid off by 2033, and turn the balance into a 30-year loan. Republicans object to reamortizing KPERS because it would add $7 billion in interest payments.
The GOP rushed to approve her bill with an unscheduled vote in the final moments of a committee hearing on Wednesday. No debate was allowed.
On Thursday, the plan failed on an 87-36 vote, giving Republicans a major victory two days ahead of their annual state convention.
"We all know why we're here," said Cindy Neighbor, D-Shawnee. "Unfortunately, the rationale for some is the ability to say, 'We gotcha,' and that's your weekend."
She accused Republicans of acting like 2-year-olds who want to say, "It's my toy and you can't have it."
"KPERS has been robbed for the past eight years, and we know who was in charge when that happened," Neighbor said. "And many of you voted for that. Shame on you."
In a symbolic move, she proposed amending the governor's budget by adding a $115 million payment to KPERS — a Republican idea that passed the Senate on a 40-0 vote. The House's Republican-led rules committee decided her amendment wasn't germane.
Later, the governor returned fire, saying her plan is an attempt to stabilize a crisis she inherited from previous administrations.
She said her rationale was to flatten KPERS payments that are about to balloon, in part because of 15 missed payments in the past nine years. If the state doesn't refinance now, she said, it will have to do so in the near future.
The reduced payments also provide a cash cushion to support her plans to increase spending in multiple areas of government.
"More critical, though, to the funding of our schools and our roads and Medicaid expansion going forward is really for the Legislature to restrain themselves when it comes to looking at our tax structure," Kelly said.
In discussion on the House floor, Rep. Stan Frownfelter, D-Kansas City, and Rep. Boog Highberger, D-Lawrence, blasted the process used to get the bill before the chamber.
"People of this state are demanding more transparency and accountability from us," Highberger said. "If you do anything like this, it's a slap in the face."
Rep. John Barker, R-Abilene, said he was demonstrating his respect for Kelly when he made the motion in committee to suspend rules.
"I thought that this was such a cornerstone of the governor's budget that we should give respect to her and hear this," Barker said.
House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins, R-Wichita, said he found it interesting that so many Democrats were concerned about the lack of debate.
"If you will hang in there with us," Hawkins said, "everybody will have a chance before we vote, very, very soon."
After the vote, Rep. Brett Parker, D-Overland Park, said he was disappointed Republicans were more interested "in playing political games" than assembling a budget.
"They're showing they would rather have votes that demonstrate their lack of respect for the governor than actually govern," Parker said. "They haven't put forward an alternative plan."