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Bill to overhaul PERS Board dies in...

Bill to overhaul PERS Board dies in Senate committee

By: Sarah Ulmer - April 2, 2024

Senate Government Structure committee hearing

  • Speaker White calls the move by the Senate to kill a House Bill that would have prevented a rate increase and provided for a structure change to the PERS Board irresponsible.

On Tuesday, State Senator Chris Johnson (R), chairman of the the Mississippi Senate Government Structure Committee, opted not to take up HB 1590 which would have restructured the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) Board and paused a looming employer rate increase set for July of this year.

“I believe the correct course of action right now is to not bring up House Bill 1590 for a vote,” Johnson told his committee on deadline day. “I would encourage the Board to be transparent, do live webcasts, like we do. Not only for their board meetings but for their working groups so that everyone can see the dialogue that they have and better understand what goes into their decision making.”

Johnson also encouraged the PERS Board to put a stay on the rate increase expected to come later this year.

Without a vote on the legislation in committee, it will die on Tuesday’s deadline.

Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann said in a statement late Tuesday that the PERS system’s long-term viability continues to be a serious concern.

“The Senate and the House need to work together to find a solution. Transparency and trust, from both the Legislature and retirees and employees, will be critical for us to move forward,” Hosemann said.

Lt. Governor Hosemann went on to add that the Senate is committed to protecting retiree and current employee benefits while balancing the budget.

In the course of lawmakers looking at the issue, Senator Johnson said there has been a large amount of misinformation circulating about. He said retirees and those currently in PERS do not need to be in fear that their benefits will not be there when they need them.

Johnson added that it has been made clear to lawmakers through hearings and additional conversations that PERS is sound and has the money necessary to pay retirees and those close to retirement. He acknowledged that some changes might be needed, like a new tier for future hires.

Senator Johnson said the recommendations by the PERS Board continue to be snapshots of actuary expectations for a future time. In 2022, the Board told lawmakers that the plan would be funded at 93.5 percent in 25 years if they stayed the current course.

“I think the Board would be wise to request an appropriation that could help with the PERS budget,” said Johnson, adding that he hopes lawmakers will look at additional ways to keep the system sound without putting the contribution increase burden on the employees of the state.

While Johnson said the House bill had the “best of intentions,” and that both chambers believe PERS is a top issue, he said legislators were hopeful to address it this year but were not able to come to an agreement.

Shortly after the bill died in the Senate committee, Speaker of the House Jason White (R) released a statement, calling the move irresponsible and pointing to the Lt. Governor and Senators.

“With the passing of Committee deadline today, I am disappointed to learn of the Mississippi Senate’s inaction on HB 1590, the PERS bill which in no way changed or modified retiree benefits but restructured the board and rescinded the scheduled employer’s contribution increase,” said White. “The Lt. Governor and Senate’s failure to address the long-term sustainability of our state’s retirement program is irresponsible to not only PERS retirees and participants in the system by Mississippi taxpayers.”

Speaker White added that refusing to address the contribution increase enacted by the PERS Board will have serious ramifications for the cities, counties, and school districts. He said it could result in historic tax increases by those entities.

“Over the next three years, and the foreseeable future if no action is taken, the proposed 5-10% increase requested to fund PERS will also have the effect of limiting government services, and eliminating state and local government employees,” said White.

About the Author(s)
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Sarah Ulmer

Sarah is a Mississippi native, born and raised in Madison. She is a graduate of Mississippi State University, where she studied Communications, with an emphasis in Broadcasting and Journalism. Sarah’s experience spans multiple mediums, including extensive videography with both at home and overseas, broadcasting daily news, and hosting a live radio show. In 2017, Sarah became a member of the Capitol Press Corp in Mississippi and has faithfully covered the decisions being made by leaders on some of the most important issues facing our state. Email Sarah: