Public chimes in on state retirement system - MSNewsNow.com - Jackson, MS

Public chimes in on state retirement system

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JACKSON, MS (Mississippi News Now) -

It was a scene inside the State Capitol Wednesday afternoon, where for the first time, the public got a chance to have their voices heard. Most of them concerned about what will happen to the state's public employees' retirement system known as PERS, which is know being examined by a commission.

"I would like to see PERS stay intact as it is for current and future employees and I believe it is a promise we should keep," said state retiree Ann Thames.

"To change it would also be detrimental to the employees and retirees of the state of Mississippi," said Canton Public Schools Superintendent Dwight Luckett.

Concerns of sustainability for the system prompted Governor Haley Barbour to create the 12 member commission back in August; made up of business leaders, elected officials and financial experts led by Gulfport Mayor George Schloegel.

"Most of what this commission has been doing is reading, reading, reading," Schloegel told the crowd.

The concern isn't for the short term, but rather the future. Governor Barbour says the system is only funded at about 60 percent of where it should be and pays out more benefits than it's structurally set up for.

The commission will examine the system's structure as well as the legality of modifying it. Through the public hearing, the hope is to get feedback and ease concerns from those who rely on the system.

"If we're not cognizant of the things that have changed around us and do not react to those, we can get ourselves in trouble down the line," said Schloegel.

The commission itself won't be making changes to the system, only recommendations which would require legislative action. The commission could also recommend to change nothing at all.  With information now gathered from the public, Schloegel says the commission will consider everything heard before making any recommendations.

"We think it's prudent to act rather than react and that will be our position," said Schloegel.

Meanwhile, those in the system contend it's a selling point to work in the public sector.

"My decision to remain in public education was because of the money I had already invested in my pension and the security of my retirement," said one retiree.

A report from the commission is expected to be presented in mid-November to be available for the new governor and new legislature in January.

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