STEVE HOLLAND: Keep politics out of the PERS board

By Steve Holland

Public Employees Retirement System Executive Director Pat Robertson told the members of a House subcommittee recently that contrary to constant harping by some politicians, PERS was in no danger of collapsing.
Robertson reported that PERS has seen its assets grow by $1.5 billion just since July 1. Robertson has repeatedly said that PERS is able to maintain its responsibility to retirees and future retirees.
PERS has a Board of Trustees as well as Robertson and the PERS staff of professionals who have most effectively guided the system quite well for many years without political interference. In the history of PERS, the system has NEVER failed to meet its obligation to state retirees.
PERS has been under attack this legislative session primarily due to a bill by Sen. Nancy Collins, R-Tupelo. Collins wished to freeze the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for three years and then utilize a different formula thereafter. She also included a provision for more political appointees to the Board of Trustees.
How many Mississippians, if given a proper choice, would wish to have politicians in charge of their money and their financial future? Does it not seem both fair and equitable for PERS members to elect their own Board of Trustees?
PERS and the state of Mississippi have an obligation to honor the promise to current and future retirees. Sen. Collins’ now defunct Senate bill would have broken that promise. In her Feb. 10 op-ed column in the Daily Journal, Sen. Collins stated, “We can consider a temporary freeze of the cost-of-living adjustment… without harming any retiree or state employee.” Is Sen. Collins serious? The COLA could be frozen for three years with no harm to retirees?
Is she able to guarantee that the overall cost of living, such as gasoline and groceries, will not rise during the time of the COLA freeze? If not, the freezing of the COLA would do massive harm to retirees who count on it as the only increase to their pension annually.
The basic monthly benefit does not change. Therefore the COLA is the only part of the PERS system that allows retirees to even attempt to keep up with the steadily rising cost of living. PERS current and future retirees include teachers, policeman, firefighters, school nurses, city employees, and many others.
Collins said, “We can consider adding more members to our PERS Board of Trustees …” Pay careful attention here. This is pure political double speak. She wants the board to increase from 10 to 17 members. Guess where the additional seven members would come from? Yes, they would all be political appointees from the governor and lieutenant governor and would inevitably make the PERS board increasingly political.
Sen. Collins leaves no doubt that her desire is for the PERS Board of Trustees to become a political entity, rather than a group of people elected by PERS members with no agenda other than to serve current and future retirees of the State of Mississippi. Don’t you wonder why she desires this?
Should PERS ever require a major overhaul, and that day is NOT now, it must begin with new employees entering the work force. Trying to change the rules in the middle of the game is inherently unfair to retirees and all of those anywhere near retirement, who have made their retirement plans based on the current obligations of the PERS system.
Please understand that the COLA Sen. Collins wants frozen and changed is the most critical (and viable) piece of Mississippi’s Public Retirement System. Our State of Mississippi employees and retirees deserve nothing less. This representative will do as I have done for 30 years; affirm only those recommendations endorsed by the current PERS Board. This is my position. I will not retreat or compromise.
Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, represents District 16 in the Mississippi House. Contact him at P.O. Box 2, Plantersville, MS 38862 or sholland@house.ms.gov.