PERS bill draws Democrats’ criticism

djournal-state-news-mississippiBy Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – House and Senate Democrats on Thursday criticized legislation that could delay annual cost of living increases for government employees and teachers who retiree after July 1.

The bill, filed by Sen. Sean Tindell, R-Gulfport, would postpone the annual 3 percent cost of living increase from kicking in for people who retire after July 1 until they reach the age of 65.

Legislative Democrats held a news conference at the state Capitol to blast Tindell’s proposal as what they said was the latest effort of Republicans “to undermine” the Public Employees Retirement System.

Tindell said afterward his goal is to ensure the retirement system remains solvent.

“My goal and desire is to make sure that when our fine public servants retire they can count on their retirement for the rest of their life and that we can offer PERS to future generations of teachers, first responders and other public servants,” Tindell said.

Lt. Gov Tate Reeves, who presides over the Senate, said, “I would not anticipate that bill would go very far this year.”

Rep. Jody Steverson, D-Ripley, who spoke at the news conference, said he had received numerous calls from state and local government employees concerned about the legislation. He said a Tippah County teacher, who said she plans to work five or six more years, told him she would be forced to retire this year if the legislation passed to keep her cost of living increases.

“She has taught for 30 years and has had a major positive influence on many children in my district,” Steverson said.

State workers, teachers and local government officials in PERS hired before 2011 are eligible for retirement after 25 years of employment. Employees hired after 2011 must work 30 years or until age 60 to be eligible for retirement.

Retirees receive a 3 percent cost of living raise every year. Retirees can opt to receive the cost of living money in a lump sum at the end of the year – often referred to as a 13th check.

The latest financial report reveals the system has a little less than 58 percent of the funds needed to cover its liabilities over a 30-year period. The desired industry average is 80 percent.

bobby.harrison@journalinc.com