BILLY MCCOY: McCoy cautions about politicians touching PERS system

By Billy McCoy

Caution” is the word I’d suggest before any tampering with Mississippi’s Public Employees Retirement System by the 12-member commission appointed by the governor.
Do not turn PERS over to politicians or Wall Street bankers. We have an independent board elected by participants in the system representing all categories of beneficiaries. Professionals at PERS say the “ship will right itself” when the nation climbs out of the current economic dilemma.
Pat Robertson, the executive director of PERS, announced last week that the agency recorded more than a 25 percent gain on investment return for the fiscal year which ended June 30. She pointed out the fund now has more than $20 billion (and that’s spelled with a “b”) in total assets. When the governor’s panel meets, I believe they will concede with Director Robertson and PERS’ actuaries that state, county and municipal employees, Troopers and school teachers have little to worry about in receiving their promised benefits.
In my travels around the state I find this to be the major topic of concern since it adds anxiety for families who are reeling from national trends, controversies in other states and gridlock in Washington. Why subject Mississippians to unnecessary worry by focusing on a political philosophy? When I hear dedicated teachers, state, county and municipal employees consider early retirement because of unfounded rumors, I tell them that a commission appointed by a lame duck governor has little influence over a new legislature. Modification to the present formula would have to be passed by the legislature and conform to the state constitution, which also protects the integrity of PERS.
Neither Barbour nor I will be around if a future legislature chooses to look at PERS. I also take issue with the governor’s plan to use up to a quarter million dollars of federal stimulus money to hire a new team of professional financial analysts to study PERS. This money could have been better spent helping plug holes in our current budget. A few years ago an idea was floated around the Capitol to issue bonds to fund the retirement system with borrowed money and invest it in the stock market. When eyebrows were raised and questions asked, the scheme vanished.
Director Robertson wrote PERS participants after the members of the Commission were announced saying, “As I have said in the past, we are not as well funded as we should be, however, adjustments have been made and time will right the ship.” We should be careful not to add extra anxiety on citizens already reeling from listening to some “doom’s day sayers” on the 24-hour cable programs and internet.
Our nation’s Social Security and Medicare programs have nothing to do with PERS. Director Robertson added in her message that she has been “assured that no biases exist among the members of the Commission relative to the conclusions that may be reached…” I hope she is right. My admonition is, “Don’t tamper with PERS. Tell future politicians and Wall Street bankers to keep hands off of our retirement funds.”
William J. (Billy) McCoy is speaker of Mississippi House of Representatives. Contact him at 259 CR 1021, Rienzi, MS 38865.