Once a lawmaker is vested in state government, they get perks like no other state employee. With a base pay about $10,000, 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 50% more in retirement simply because they are legislators.
"For legislators to add 50% on to that for themselves, most people see as very wrong," said Mississippi Center for Public Policy President, Forest Thigpen.
Thigpen says the payout is often a hot button issue since it's calculated on a lawmakers highest four salary years while in office and includes per diem payments.
"The result is that it's not uncommon for 40, 50, $60,000 to be the base on which their retirement is calculated," said Thigpen.
It was established by lawmakers back in 1989 and ever since then the plan hasn't changed much. Currently there's a total of 381 active members enrolled in SLRP, including current lawmakers as well as those already retired and their beneficiaries.
For fiscal year 2011, SLRP paid out $823,936 in benefits to 147 members or beneficiaries currently receiving them. As a whole, the Public Employees Retirement System, known as PERS, paid out more than $1.6 billion to more than 83,000 people.
PERS Director, Pat Robertson, declined an on camera interview about SLRP but said the department is "prohibited by law from providing details of individual member accounts" which would show just how much individuals are getting.
Lawmakers pay in 12% of their annual salary for both PERS and SLRP while state employees pay in 9% for PERS alone.
"We make a pretty good salary but I can tell you we put in absolute untold hours, not only the three months that we're in session but there's never a free day when you're back in your district," said Representative Steve Holland of Plantersville.
Holland did not vote to enact SLRP but says he can live with it or without it.
"I don't think it's that big an issue. I think it's easy for the general public to make it an issue. I don't think it makes that much difference to the average legislator and I also don't think we'll ever get rid of it," said Holland.
Getting rid of it is just what Thigpen says needs to happen.
"They need to end the program now, pay the benefits that are legally owed already, but end the program from now on and require state legislators to operate under the same system that the rest of the state employees operate under," said Thigpen.
Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves, who just became a member of SLRP when he took office, says he's not opposed to looking at changes to the plan and understands why taxpayers think it may be unfair.
"We'll talk with various members from the house and senate as to what we need to do on SLRP," said Reeves.
With more than 20 years on the books, any attempt to deflate the inflated benefit may not sit well with a legislative majority.
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