Fiscal conservatives have seized upon the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System as a poster child for budget-busting benefits.

Officially, the KPERS unfunded liability stands at $8.3 billion, but "the real deficit" according to the Kansas Policy Institute, a conservative think tank, is "more likely to be at least $14 billion" and possibly as high as $20 billion. The sweep of estimates is because the official statistic is based on assets earning an 8% annual return over the next 30 years. Critics say that the investment return should be set much lower and, for example, a 6% investment return would require an additional $3.3 billion in state contributions over 10 years.

Among the reforms being considered is to put new employees and nonvested current employees into a 401(k)-style retirement plan.

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