Retirement system study for solvency | The Clarion-Ledger | www.clarionledger.com: www.clarionledger.com/article/20110904/OPINION02/1…ion|s
As chairman of the newly formed Public Employees Retirement System Study Commission, I feel compelled to respond to column by Editorial Director David Hampton ("Politics of PERS could be problem for GOP," Aug. 21).
Mr. Hampton suggests Gov. Barbour’s creation of the PERS Study Commission was a political miscalculation. Such a suggestion could lead readers to believe Gov. Barbour is simply a man of politics, not policy. Additionally, readers might infer from Mr. Hampton’s words that Gov. Barbour’s devoted service to Mississippi has been guided by something other than the doctrine of "good policy equals good politics."
Gov. Barbour recognizes a glaring need to act if we are to avoid a future disaster with PERS. That is hardly playing politics. Instead, it is a leader protecting the pensions of our state’s dedicated workforce and the hard-earned money of our state’s taxpayers.
Indeed, the challenge of a state retirement system that enjoys continued sustainability and future solvency is a daunting one, but rather than ignoring a looming calamity, the governor, as he has done so many times prior, made a bold decision to swiftly confront this charge.
In his column, Mr. Hampton asks why create such a commission now. The answer is simple: Because no one else wanted to carry this cross at a time when courageous leadership and foresight was essential to solving this issue before it becomes too late.
The Legislature defeated a Barbour-sponsored resolution to establish a PERS study committee. The PERS Board of Trustees voted against commissioning an independent study of the pension plan, and instead considered a funding plan that would have increased taxpayer payments to the system by 50 percent over just four years.
Some reforms of PERS have been made in the last eight years, and it is important to know there is no immediate crisis, nor reason to fear benefits will go unpaid anytime soon.
While most pressure has subsided recently, the fund remains significantly underfunded at about 64 percent of the standard set by the national oversight organization.
As a mayor, I know firsthand the impact retirement income has on families and communities. I also understand, all too well, the effects an unchecked retirement system can have on a city’s budget.
As chair of the PERS Study Commission, my local perspective will help our group make sound recommendations considering all factors.
We are a diverse group of private and public sector employees; we have no preconceived notions about PERS, save for one: The system must have long-range viability to ensure that a retiree receives his or her monthly retirement check for the period promised.
On or before Nov. 15, our commission will present a transparent assessment of the financial condition of PERS and a comprehensive set of recommendations on ways to strengthen it.
While I believe this work is of the highest importance, it is not our responsibility nor within our power to implement changes to the state’s retirement plan. That is a job for the 2012 Legislature, the new governor and the PERS Board of Trustees.
It is our responsibility to give accurate information about the PERS system to the new governor and Legislature. More importantly, we are tasked with sharing this information with current and future employees who are or will be beneficiaries of our state retirement system and to the taxpayers of Mississippi who pay most of the cost of the system.
I trust that our incoming leaders will follow Gov. Barbour’s trailblazing leadership and give honest study to our findings to ensure Mississippi’s current and future state employees, taxpayers and retirees are well protected.
Mayor of Gulfport
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