Mississippi’s retired public employees are raising a red flag about a bill pending at the State Capitol

Published: Feb. 6, 2023 at 7:21 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Retired public employees are keeping a close watch on the State Capitol. They’re worried a pending bill would insert the legislature into some decision-making for the retirement system.

For some background, public employees around the state pay into Public Employees’ Retirement System of Mississippi, known as PERS. Right now, decisions about how much employees’ current contributions are made by the PERS board. But pending legislation could put the legislature in the middle of those decisions.

House Bill 605 isn’t the same as when Rep. Charles Busby first filed it.

“I filed House Bill 605 as a bill to allow teachers that have retired, come back and teach in the classroom and still draw their retirement,” said Busby during a personal point of privilege on February 1.

Busby started getting flooded with calls and messages, and that’s when he realized it was “hijacked completely.”

“I was never told about it,” Busby said.

The bill went from 30 to 10 pages when it was amended in the appropriations committee. Now its aim? Require the legislature to sign off on any future contribution increases by PERS. It was those changes that spurred the calls to action from the Mississippi Retired Public Employees’ Association.

“When we retired, we were told what our benefits were gonna be,” said retiree and MRPEA board member Sam Valentine. “And we could plan our retirement income around that until, like, the day of our death.”

Retiree and MRPEA board member Sam Valentine says the board makes decisions based on financial advice to maintain the health of the system.

“We’ve got a lot of people who are retired that are elderly,” explained Valentine. “And to hear that there’s something jeopardizing their system is very upsetting to those individuals. And that’s one of the things that we don’t want to happen and hopefully will not happen.”

The association’s past president says the impacts could go beyond those who’ve already retired.

“To be quite honest, and I’m not saying that they necessarily would...but if the legislature would choose not to continue to make the contributions necessary to keep the system actuarily sound, it’s actually going to have more potential bad things happen to the people that are currently working,” described Ed LeGrand, MRPEA Past President.

The PERS board did vote in December to increase the employer contributions from 17.4 to 22.4% beginning in October of 2023.

We received this statement from PERS Executive Director Ray Higgins.

“We are closely watching HB 605 and all other legislation that could affect PERS. The PERS Board has historically always acted as fiduciaries in the best interest of the membership, which they did recently when raising the employer contribution rate based on actuarial recommendations. Long term, ensuring the System is adequately funded is critical for those we serve. We are always willing to work with the Legislature, membership, and others for the betterment of PERS.”

Ray Higgins, PERS Executive Director.

The bill hasn’t been taken up by the full House yet. They have until Thursday to do so in order for it to clear the next deadline.

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