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Mississippi Democrats Warning Of Potential Changes To PERS

By Jeffrey Hess | Published 23 Jan 2014 03:50pm | comments

Democrats in the Mississippi legislature are claiming a bill to change part of the the Public Employee Retirement System is actually an attempt to undermine the program. MPB's Jeffrey Hess reports that despite warnings the bill is unlikely to become law.

The bill, submitted by Senator Sean Tindell of Gulfport, would not allow any annual cost of living increase until a retiree is at least 65 years old.

Tindell says he submitted it as a way to get the program's unfunded liability under control.

"I introduced it trying ot address the problem that we are seeing with the unfunded liability in PERS continuing to grow. Now that trend has been going on for over ten years. Even in the last five years as the stock market has continued to go up and the investments in PERS have continued to rise, the unfunded liabilty has continued to grow," Tindell said.

PERS has about 60-percent of the money it needs for its long term bills but the head of the agency says it is on track to reach 90-percent funding.

Democrats say the true intent of the legislation is to undermine the system entirely.

Senator Hob Bryan of Amory claims the bill would cause long time public employees to retire enmasse.

"The current proposal, which is completely unnessecary, would say to current workers 'if you don't retire before July first of this year, you won't get a cost of living benefit until you reach age 65,''" Bryan said.

About 22-thousand public employees in Mississippi are under 65 years old and eligible to retire.

The bill is unlikely to gain much traction as both the committee chair and Lt. Governor expressed skepticism.

Finance committee chairman Joey Fillingane of Sumrall says PERS is in better shape than it has been in a long time.

"The stock market, which about 85% of our PERS system is tied to, has done so well the past twelve months that the financial footing of PERS is really in probably the best shape it has been in years," Fillingane said.

A 2011 PERS study committee did recommend a slight change to the annual cost of living increase, but the recommendation was not as far reaching as this year's bill.

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