PERS director opposes change to provisions of ’13th check’

Money_rgbJACKSON — The head of the Mississippi Public Employees Retirement System says she opposes a bill that would make state and local government retirees wait until they’re 65 to collect an annual cost-of-living adjustment known as the “13th check,” even if they retire years earlier.

“The unintended consequences of that bill would be very detrimental to the system,” PERS director Pat Robertson said yesterday at the Capitol.

The Senate Finance Committee chairman, Republican Joey Fillingane of Sumrall, said in a separate interview he opposes the bill, which means it has little chance of surviving.

“I think the last thing we want to do is cause consternation among our state retirees,” Fillingane said.

The proposal is in Senate Bill 2140, by Republican Sen. Sean Tindell of Gulfport. Tindell said in a statement that he’s trying to strengthen PERS and it’s “disingenuous” for longtime lawmakers to criticize his plan when they approved policies that led to the system’s current funding level.

“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.

House and Senate Democrats, who are in the minority in both chambers, held a news conference yesterday to demand that Tindell’s bill be killed. Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, said this isn’t the first time a Republican lawmaker has filed a bill that he considers an attack on the retirement system.

“I want to be clear,” Bryan said. “Not all Republicans are trying to undermine the retirement system. But everybody that’s trying to undermine the retirement system is a Republican.”

Robertson said 22,500 government employees are eligible to retire today and changing payments would cause an exodus, particularly among workers who are eligible to retire but are years away from being 65.

“It would decimate the workforce today, particularly the institutional knowledge,” she said.

The cost-of-living adjustment is typically referred to as a “13th check” because many retirees take it as a lump payment at the end of each calendar year. However, they have the option to receive the cost-of-living adjustment each month.

Fillingane said PERS took a financial hit when the stock market dropped during the Great Recession but its financial standing is improving as the economy recovers.

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