Mississippi lawmakers may be in better shape when they retire than most other state retirees, simply because they were lawmakers.
"The appearance certainly is that they think of themselves more highly than regular state employees," said Mississippi Center for Public Policy president Forest Thigpen.
That appearance comes from what some call a legislative secret which has been in the books for more than twenty years.
"Legislators will tell you that they haven't had a salary increase in decades and technically that's true," said Thigpen.
Who needs an increase, says Thigpen, when what they do have just may be better. The base pay for a legislator is about $10,000, but their retirement packages go far beyond that. Through the Supplemental Legislative Retirement Plan, known as SLRP, legislators are the only public employees who get an additional fifty percent more in retirement simply because they are legislators.
In addition to their normal pay plus the fifty percent, lawmakers also get to factor in per diem payments and monthly allowances as their salary which means it also becomes part of their retirement payout. Currently that's a $116 per day while in session and $1,500 a month for legislative expenses while not in session.
"Whether they actually do work or not, whether they stay overnight or not, whether they have any actual expenses, they get the per diem," said Thigpen.
Added together, that's a retirement package based on a salary of anywhere from $35 to $60,000 depending on what positions individual lawmakers hold while at the capitol.
"I do think there should be some incentive for qualified people to run for the legislature. However, I don't believe that all the extras that they have put into to their salary calculation and how that affects their retirement package and on top of that to add an additional fifty percent, I think is wrong."
The law was put in place to serve as a reward for service to their state, but Thigpen says it can easily been seen as a slap in the face to other public employees who don't have the benefit of a legally inflated retirement.
"I would imagine that most state employees would agree that legislators should not be treated any better than they are," says Thigpen.
Lawmakers are also allowed to waive their rights to the system when it comes time for them to retire. The inflated benefits of course come out of the Public Employee's Retirement System which is now being examined by a commission because of concerns of its financial sustainability.
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