By Tommy Reynolds
Despite assurances, reassurances and even an attorney general’s opinion that our state employees’ retirement pensions are actually contractual arrangements, we seem to be battling more assaults on Public Employee Retirement System this year.
On Thursday, January 23, some of us felt it necessary to hold a press conference and declare that we will not support proposed changes to PERS. Among others, one bill that got our attention is Senate Bill 2140, which would drastically change the rules of the retirement system – even for those who are currently retired or who have worked for state, county and city government for many years and have not retired. I strongly oppose this measure.
The bill would only allow the cost of living adjustments (COLA) for state employees who retired before July 1, 2014, or where the retiree is now 65 years of age or older. It would not allow COLA raises for an individual who retired before age 65 after this date, no matter how long he or she had worked.
The reduction in COLA payments would adversely affect tens of thousands across the state and hundreds in District 33.
Senate Bill 2140 would change rules in effect for many years concerning the method of paying retirees proper compensation. This action would greatly reduce the pension payments to retirees. This is not at all what public servants agreed to when they began work in government.
Mississippi must recognize that the terms upon which an individual is hired is the equivalent of a contract. As the Attorney General’s Office stated, “The pension is a benefit of employment. The benefit cannot be taken away.” Taking away the expected COLA is taking away a benefit.
I will not support these changes to PERS, a system that has proven itself to be a stable source of security for our long-serving public employees for many years.
We need also to remember that for every dollar received by a state, city, school district or municipal retiree, $1.26 is returned to the local economy.
I was also privileged last week to meet with a group of fire service personnel who came to the capitol to discuss various pieces of legislation they believe will enhance their ability to serve. One issue which I support and is under consideration again this year is an enhanced death benefit to fire fighters and other first responders who may die in the course of duty.
During these harsh winter days, we hardly see a newscast without a story about tragic fires in homes and businesses. These individuals risk their lives with every call to battle a blaze. In the dreaded chance that we would lose one of these courageous individuals, I am hopeful that we can increase the benefits for their survivors from $65,000 to $100,000.
February 4 is the first committee deadline, and we will be working hard to make sure important bills come out of committees. I am on the Judiciary A, Compilation, Revision and Publication, Constitution, County Affairs, Judiciary En Banc, Select Committee on Railway Development, and Ways and Means committees
Please feel free to contact me at 1720 N. Main St., Water Valley, MS 38965, by email at thomasureynolds @bellsouth.net or by phone at (662) 473-2571. I look forward to hearing from you on any issue that you may have.