Lawmakers still receive two retirement plans - MSNewsNow.com - Jackson, MS

Lawmakers still receive two retirement plans

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By Ashley Conroy

JACKSON, MS (WLBT) - State revenues have been down for months now as Governor Haley Barbour made five rounds of cuts for the 2010 budget.

Meantime, state lawmakers continue to see two retirement pensions: the Public Employees Retirement System and Supplemental Legislative Retirement Plan.

In 1989 state lawmakers voted this measure in for the sole purpose of receiving extra incentive for serving in the legislature.

From the Mississippi Code of 1972, SEC.25-11-301 it states, "This article... is designed to provide more benefits for members of the State Legislature and the President of the Senate by reason of their service to the state."

Executive Director of PERS Pat Robertson said, "That benefit is based on the number of years that they serve and their salary, just like any other PERS retiree would earn their benefit."

In 2007 lawmakers voted to change this measure restricting some of the rules. For instance, prior to 2007, lawmakers only had to serve a four-year term to receive these benefits, whereas now they have to serve at least eight years.

In addition, lawmakers won't receive this pension until age 60. If they serve 25 years in the legislature, they can receive this retirement if they are younger than 60.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Dean Kirby (R-Brandon) said often state senators don't reach this point.

"The average state senators only serves like six and a half years, and you can't count on that as retirement," Kirby said.

PERS reports that they average legislator makes nearly $40 thousand annually with pier diem.

The public retirement allows them to receive 20 percent of the four highest years of their salary.

SLRP then provides half of this amount or 10 percent. For a lawmaker who see $40 thousand annually they would receive about $12 thousand during retirement for service in the legislature.

Representative Cecil Brown (D-Jackson) has been serving since the early 2000's and said state lawmakers often don't get into the legislature for the money.

"I don't know anybody that's in the legislature for SLRP. I don't know anybody in the legislature who came in for the retirement system," said Rep. Brown.

In addition Senator Kirby said he thinks the perception is often that state lawmakers make more money.

"I do feel like at times people get us confused with those in Washington. And there's quite a bit difference in the base pay there of those in Washington and those in the state capitol building," Sen. Kirby said.

However, Rep. Brown said making adjustments to SLRP could be something the legislature considers in the future, but not at this time.

Robertson said getting rid of the SLRP plan at this time could actually hurt the general fund.

"It would almost double the cost to the state at least initially probably through 2032. So instead of it being a little over $400 thousand it would be a little over $800 thousand that would have to be put in."

Meantime, Rep. Brown said money issues in the legislature are political in nature, and should be left up to the State Personnel Board to decide how much lawmakers should receive.

"It is a political issue in both chambers and we need to get the politics out of it," Rep. Brown said.

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