JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) -A legislative watchdog report is again looking at the financial stability of Mississippi’s Public Employee’s Retirement System, known as PERS, and it shows changes are needed.
There are always a lot of eyes and ears open when there are conversations about the health of the public retirement system and any potential changes.
“It’s absolutely vital that we protect the retirement system,” said Sen. David Blount, one of two senators appointed to serve on the PERS advisory board. “This isn’t just for state employees. It’s for city employees, county employees, school teachers, and folks who work in school districts and community colleges. We have a legal obligation to our retirees to protect their retirement.”
The PEER report shows that as of last June, all three of the PERS plan’s funding policy metrics reached red signal-light status. But it shows the board’s approved employer contribution increase of 5 percent would put all three back into the green. That increase was delayed from taking effect till July of next year. But the increase raised a red flag of its own. The Hattiesburg Mayor has called it an unfunded mandate.
“For us as cities and counties and school districts, one we want to see this issue dealt with and to either slow or reduce the employer contribution before it hits us next July 1st because our taxpayers in our school districts and cities and counties will feel that,” said Mayor Toby Barker in February. “But secondly, we need an honest adult conversation about what happens to PERS long term.”
Retirees like Sam Valentine, a former PERS board member, say the system does need to be strengthened but makes this note.
“Don’t think that the retirees should have to bear the burden by a reduction in benefits,” noted Sam Valentine. ”And that’s one of the things that might be considered a reduction in benefits. All retirees were told this is what you’ll receive after you retire. And it’s certainly their expectation that they’ll have that benefit for as long as they draw retirement benefits.”
Another issue is that there’s a smaller ratio of public employees to retirees now, meaning less folks paying in.
PERS Executive Director Ray Higgins said in a statement: “Overall, we feel the PEER report is an accurate review, consistent with previously published PERS data and information. We appreciate the work of the PEER committee and the importance of PERS to the state of Mississippi.”
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