Democrats Blast Proposed Changes to State Pensions

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — "Leave our money alone!"

That statement by Sen. Kenny Wayne Jones, D-Canton, sums up Democrats' reaction to proposals to freeze cost-of-living increases for retired public employees.

A group of Democrats at a news conference Tuesday attacked proposal, which Sen. Nancy Collins, R-Tupelo, has said she's considering introducing as a bill. Collins has also said she'd like to increase the size of the board of the Public Employees Retirement System, which now has 10 members, by adding appointees not chosen by employees. She also wants to wipe out the special retirement benefit for lawmakers.

Collins told the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal last week (http://bit.ly/X3ny1G ) that she was developing a proposal to freeze retirees' annual 3 percent cost-of-living increase for three years. Collins said she would also propose giving the governor and lieutenant governor three additional appointments each to the PERS board. Currently, eight members are elected by various groups of public employees and retirees. The governor has one appointee and the state treasurer also serves.

The pension system, which covers state employees, public school teachers, university workers and most city and county employees, has $21 billion in assets. But accountants say that it only has 58 percent of the funds needed to pay for current and future benefits. In reaction, the board has increased the share of payroll that agencies must contribute to 15.75 percent.

That's a burden on government agencies, especially those that don't get money from the Legislature to pay for the increase. Some people have suggested that the system needs to be re-examined because of the burden.

Collins' proposal had not been introduced as legislation as of Tuesday. She could not immediately be reached for comment. PERS Executive Director Pat Robertson said the system's board doesn't have a position on Collins' proposals.

Democrats, though, were gleeful in their opposition, believing that loud advocacy for public employees would aid the minority party.

"My dear friend and new senator Nancy Collins has jumped into a hornets' nest, that's what she's done," said Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville. "The members of the House say 'No, no, no,' to changing benefits."

Several Democrats pointed to a recent report from the Legislature's Joint Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review that suggested any cuts to benefits for current employees or retirees would be illegal.

"I think certainly you'd have some legal issues," said House Minority Leader Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto.

Both Moak and Holland said they would only consider changes requested by the PERS board.

"When the board brings us a recommendation, I promise you we'll have dialogue, but otherwise we're not interested in any changes in the system," Holland said.

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Comments

captaindes 1 year, 7 months ago

What they need to do is keep current employees in the retirement system they hired into and change the programs for future hires. That should eliminate any legal issues from past decisions. As far as freezing COLAs...That should be tied to actual cost of living expenses. With Obamacare on the way, perhaps they should leave that alone too. I am retired. My check shrank this month due to increases in Health Care insurance.

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kathymc 1 year, 7 months ago

Why is this pension underfunded? Is it because, like in so many other states, the legislators have failed to make their promised contribution to the fund? If that's the case then this is hardly the employees faults and the funds should be contributed immediately.

A pension is simply deferred compensation. Earned while working and paid after retirement. It is not a game to be played with peoples lives.

Maybe the politicians who create these types of problems would be required to pay premiums on an insurance policy that would compensate people for loses when they fail the constituents (taxpayers and pensioners).

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robbier 1 year, 7 months ago

Captaindes put it the best. This is the only chance the State has of saving PERS. Anyone that has the most basic understanding of financial systems or even basic math knows that we're on a doomsday course, currently. The Democrats seem to be outside that group of people I just referenced.

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