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In August, Barbour created a 12-member Public Employees’ Retirement System Study Commission to analyze the program’s structure and recommend changes. The 12-member commission will provide a comprehensive report to Barbour and the Legislature by Nov. 15.
“The current funding path for Mississippi’s pension system relies too heavily on increased contributions from taxpayers,” Barbour said.”Large benefit increases adopted in the 1990s and early 2000s, coupled with the impact of the economic downturn, have created a financially unsustainable system. The commission will take a hard look at the tough decisions that need to be implemented to ensure the long-term solvency of the system.”
That announcement stirred concern among PERS’ recipients. State retirement benefits have long been the”third rail” of state politics much as Social Security and Medicare has been the”third rail” of national politics. But as has been see at the national level, state governments are increasingly being forced to examine their retirement systems
But Democrats who seek to make such reviews a litmus test of support for state public unions likely do so at their own political peril. The Mississippi Association of Educators and the Mississippi Alliance of State Employees are the two unions most vulnerable to anti-public employee sentiments.
The Mississippi Legislature has historically been slow to tamper with PERS benefits or employee participation in the system. Barbour’s commission aside, that’s still likely to be true. Why? Because changing the system for public employees shines light on changing the system for legislators, too.
That’s true unless public unions turn the debate — as it was in Wisconsin — into a highly partisan”us against them” political standoff. Unlike those in Wisconsin, Mississippi public workers have never had collective bargaining rights in a right-to-work state. State Republicans leaders likely pray the Cole continues the partisan rhetoric regarding public workers and organized labor.