Bill could jeopardize retirement pay

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – Retirees from state and local governments, including school teachers, could lose their monthly retirement check under legislation that has passed the Senate.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Doug Davis, R-Hernando, passed through his committee an amendment to the budget for the Public Employees Retirement System that would prevent all the funds from the system from being spent if the board that governs PERS increases the employer or employee contribution rate.
Pat Robertson, executive director of the PERS board of trustees, said in a memo that the Senate language could mean that “the $112 million monthly payroll would not be issued, therefore retirees would not receive their monthly check, creating financial strain on the households of the 85,000 retirees and beneficiaries we serve.”
First, Robertson said, she would ask the attorney general’s office whether the state could refuse to pay retirees “the benefits that have been earned and promised.”
On Monday, House Appropriations Chairman Johnny Stringer, D-Montrose, said he would not agree to the Senate language. “I never thought I would I live to see this language,” Stringer said on the House floor.
The House voted 122-0 to invite negotiations on the PERS budget bill. Stringer said the House would reject the language in negotiations.
Some House members said they have received phone calls from retirees worried about what the Senate language could do to their benefits.
The language was not debated on the Senate floor when the PERS budget bill was adopted.
Davis said he added the language because he is concerned that the PERS Board might increase the amount employers, such as state agencies and local governments, and employees must contribute to the system. The board has the authority to raise the contribution level to make sure the system is adequately funded.
The board had agreed, at the behest of Speaker Billy McCoy and Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, to delay a planned increase in the employer contribution level from 12 percent to 12.93 percent from July until January.
That delay would reduce the additional cost to the state to fund the system from $34 million to $17 million.
But if the Davis amendment is adopted, the monthly benefits to retirees would be in jeopardy if the board proceeds with the compromise agreed to by Bryant and McCoy.
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@journalinc.com.