Mississippi pension system plans rule change for elected officials

Mississippi pension system plans rule change for elected officials

JACKSON, MS (WLBT) - It hasn’t made financial sense for most state retirees to think about running for a seat in the Legislature. But the board of the Mississippi Public Employees Retirement System or PERS is giving the green light to change the rules.

The PERS board is sending a message that any state retirees considering a run for a legislative seat this year can do so without fear of giving up their retirement benefits.

“It was a victory for retirees who don’t want to be put out by the side of the road," said PERS board member George Dale. "They want to make a contribution to the good of the state and they feel like they can do it through the legislative process and I say have at it.”

“We have had over 300,000 state retirees who have been prohibited from running for office because they can’t afford to forfeit their retirement,” noted The Parents’ Campaign Executive Director Nancy Loome.

It’s not a state law, but it’s a PERS rule that’s been on the books for years that’s at issue. It stated that state elected officials couldn’t draw a full time check and a retirement check at the same time from the state. But when asked for a legal opinion, Attorney General Jim Hood offered a different interpretation.

“The long and short of it is, the recent AG opinion has offered an opinion that retirees may serve in the legislature without a detriment to their retirement benefit,” said PERS Executive Director Ray Higgins.

Now, state law foes dictate how much those retirees would be paid once they got elected. Law says a retiree can only work half-time and receive half the pay if they keep collecting their pensions. The AG’s opinion dismisses any concerns with that, stating that “part time service as a legislator is both common and legally permissible.”

Some lawmakers say the potential of the new perspectives is promising.

“We have a lot to learn from educators, first responders. I can’t imagine the wealth of knowledge we can get in there where right now it doesn’t have that diversity,” said Rep. Jay Hughes of Oxford.

PERS Director Ray Higgins released this statement following Tuesday’s meeting.

We certainly support our membership and retirees. However, as fiduciaries, we must always act in the best interest of the System. Today, the PERS Board of Trustees directed PERS staff to develop or amend regulations to be finalized by January 1, 2020, that would allow retirees to serve in the Mississippi Legislature without an adverse effect on their benefit, while following state law, federal law, and the Attorney General’s opinions, and while not jeopardizing the plan’s qualified tax status. While keeping in mind the best interest of the System and the System’s importance to our many members, we will respond to this direction from our board in a prudent manner.”
Ray Higgins, PERS Executive Director

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