PERS Head Says System SustainableBy Jeffrey Hess | Published 22 Sep 2011 04:46pm |
The head of the Public Employee Retirement System is telling leading state lawmakers that the retirement system is stable. MPB's Jeffrey Hess reports that a budget hearing for PERS quickly turned into a debate over the sustainability of the system.
The discussion over PERS is at the front of mind for law makers on the Joint Legislative Budget Committee because of Governor Haley Barbour's PERS study commission....a group which is supposed to examine the retirement program and suggest changes to make it more stable.
PERS Executive Director Pat Robertson says that the 20-billion dollar program has been getting strong returns from its investments.
"PERS is sustainable under the current benefit structure. We have some debt to pay and that is associated really with the benefit increase that were passed by the legislature in 1999, granting retroactive benefits for all retirees at the time and current members that were working in the system," Robertson said.
Still, Robertson expects PERS will require an increase in the employer contributions to shrink the amount of unfunded liability in the program.
Senator Billy Hewes of Gulfport is not convinced that PERS is on the right track in the long term.
"What we are hearing from the actuary, and from her, is that we probably will have to make some change. I don't think that long term it is sustainable under today's environment without some changes to the system. We just have to decide what those changes will be," Hewes said.
Many retirees around the state have expressed concern over changes to the so-called 13th check...which is a yearly cost of living adjustment that comes as a lump sum check in December.
Representative George Flaggs of Vicksburg says he can't walk through a Wal-mart or a barber shop without someone asking him questions about the changes to PERS.
"I think that given the recommendation of the board and the executive director, I think that PERS is stable and I think we should represent that to the public," Flaggs said.
While the committee is not involved in making the recommendations or in implementing changes, the group voted unanimously in favor of a motion by Senator Hewes to oppose any recommendation that would prohibit people from receiving a cost of live adjustment.
Most changes to PERS would have to pass the state legislature.
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