Not only are high salaries driving some of the highest electric rates in the region at the Kansas City, Kansas Board of Public Utilities (KCK BPU), but “cadillac” health plans and generous pension payments contribute to the rates as well.
In 2019 KCK BPU had a total payroll in excess of $52 million, and their response to a second Open Records request from Sentinel parent company, Kansas Policy Institute, revealed total pension payments of $32.5 million to 851 retirees.
By state law, names of pension recipients cannot be revealed, but a list with unique identifiers such as “employee 1, employee 2,’ may be provided, as KPERS does for KPI each year.
The report provided to KPI shows six retirees receiving payments in excess of $100,000, four more whose payments were over $90,000, another 14 over $80,000. In total, 155 retirees had individual payouts over the $57,422 median household income in the state of Kansas, and 520 were over the $30,757 median individual income.
The full pension payment listing is available at KansasOpenGov.org.
The 2019 health claims for the BPU’s self-funded health insurance plan totaled $12.8 million with an average of 1,845 participants.
Those claims were for plans that — for current employees — are free (BPU pays the full premium), have no deductible, out of pocket maximums of $6,350 for a single and $12,700 for a family, and no — or very low — copayments.
Retirees aged 55 to 65 (when Medicare kicks in) likewise receive free medical coverage. The retiree plans have a calendar year total deductible of $100 for a single and $200 for a family. A retiree would have copays, but with out-of-pocket maximums of just $2,000 single and $4,000 for a family, those limits could be reached quickly.
For the average employee nationwide, a Kaiser Family Foundation study found that “The average annual premiums for employer-sponsored health insurance in 2019 are $7,188 for single coverage and $20,576 for family coverage. The average single premium increased 4% and the average family premium increased 5% over the past year. Workers’ wages increased 3.4% and inflation increased 2%. The average premium for family coverage has increased 22% over the last five years and 54% over the last ten years, significantly more than either workers’ wages or inflation.”
Customers foot the bill for rich benefits, high wages
The Board of Public Utilities affords rich benefits on top of high wages by charging the consumers significantly higher electric rates than surrounding utilities.
The KCK BPU in 2019 charged a residential rate of 14.36 cents per kilowatt-hour for electricity, according to research from Kansans for Lower Electric Rates. Other municipal utility companies charge less, including Independence Power and Light in Independence, Mo., at 13.70 c/kWh, and McPherson, Kansas, sits at roughly half of KCK BPU at 7.17 c/kWh.
Investor-owned utilities also have lower residential prices. Evergy (formerly Westar and KCP&L) was at 12.72 c/kWh but rates in other states are even lower. Southwestern Electric in Arkansas was at 8.41 c/kWh, Oklahoma Gas & Electric charged 9.64, the rate at MidAmerican Energy in Iowa was 10.35, and Ameren Missouri charged 10.35 c/kWh.
KCK BPU commercial and industrial customers also pay exorbitant rates. The commercial rate of 11.68 c/kWh is 79% higher than charged in McPherson, 77% higher than Southwestern in Arkansas, 61% higher than Oklahoma Gas & Electric, and 13% higher than Evergy. The industrial rate of 8.30 c/kWh is higher by 66%, 51%, 64%, and 10%, respectively.
Kansans in general pay much higher rates than in other neighboring states, but the rates charged by the KCK Board of Public Utilities are particularly egregious.