State plans to offer health-care extensions to entice older employees to retire early

In an effort to cut payroll, the state expects to start offering older employees five years of continued health care coverage if they agree to retire early, the state’s administration chief told a Wichita Republican group Friday.

But a leader of a state employee union said the union hasn’t agreed to any such buyouts — and has to before they can be put into effect.

At a Friday meeting, Secretary of Administration Dennis Taylor told the Wichita Pachyderm Club: “Next week, we’re going to be announcing a retirement incentive program that’s going to be designed to reduce the size of government.

“Obviously we’re in a situation that’s making that more necessary than ever, given the urgency associated with the disparity between revenues and expenditures.” After the meeting, he said health coverage — and in some cases cash — would be the main incentives to encourage employees to retire early and save the state their salaries. “What’s been talked about has been providing an incentive of five years of the state picking up the health care for people who would agree to retire — (coverage) for five years or up to the age of 65, whichever came first,” he said.

“That’s the primary option,” he added. “There’s a secondary option of lump-sum cash payment for people who might not be on the state (health) plan.”

Jane Carter, executive director of the Kansas Organization of State Employees, said the workers represented by her union haven’t agreed to that.

She said the union is the exclusive bargaining agent for about 9,000 state employees. They include corrections officers, KBI officers, social workers, health-care workers and clerks.

Clarter said the administration is required to negotiate with the union on wages, benefits and retirement for the represented employees.

“They’re not allowed to implement a policy that can affect that without meeting and conferring with the union,” she said.

She said the union and state officials have a meeting scheduled for Aug. 10, and all the discussions are supposed to take place behind closed doors.

Carter declined to discuss the substance of any talks and said she thinks Taylor may have broken the agreed-upon rules by talking about buyouts at the Pachyderm meeting.

Taylor told the club that the administration has already laid some groundwork for streamlining operations.

For example, he cited personnel departments.

For decades, each department in the administration had its own human resources people, he said.

But in a little-noticed March 7 executive order, Gov. Sam Brownback transferred supervision of all 170 human resources employees to the Department of Administration, Taylor said.

“The question becomes if you have everything aggregated together, is there a way that you can make those 170 really only 140 or 130, because you really have greater opportunity for greater efficiency, greater support for one another,” he said.

Taylor said the state employs about 22,000 people, excluding university employees.

“When you do the math, we have about 3,500 to 4,000 people who are at retirement age,” he said.

He said based on his experience with the city of Topeka, he would expect about fourth of the eligible employees to take the buyout offer.

“If we have 3 or 4 percent of the workforce I just mentioned, it could be in the 800 or 900 people range,” he said.

He said with further government cutbacks looming, taking a buyout and retiring might beat the possible alternative.

“I don’t know how many people are going to take this, it is a voluntary buyout,” he said. “But to the extent that people look ahead and say if I don’t take it, it might be that I’m going to be involuntarily retired, there may be some interest in that.”