Sunday, February 9, 2020

Bill Crawford: Gunn Sticks to Guns on Retirees

Speaker of the House Philip Gunn is right to bow up about state retirees serving in the Legislature.

Some background.

In late 2018 then Attorney General Jim Hood altered the political landscape for retirees with this opinion – “The PERS Retiree members have vested rights to their benefits, are entitled to receive their benefits and, if qualified and elected, they have a right to serve as a representative or senator in the Mississippi Legislature without forfeiture of their PERS retirement benefits, so long as they meet the conditions imposed by Section 25-11-127(1) and (4).”

Those conditions are: (1) No retiree can be re-employed until he or she has been fully retired for 90 consecutive days; and (4) Retirees may be employed half-time and receive no more than half of the salary for the position, or may be employed full-time but receive no more than 25% of their average compensation prior to retirement.

Months later the PERS board amended its rules to conform with Hood’s opinion, adopting these provisions for legislators: a) “a retiree may work for a period of time in any fiscal year not to exceed one-half of the normal working days for the position or one-half of the equivalent number of hours, as established by the employer, during which the retiree will receive no more than one-half of the salary in effect for the position;” or b) “a retiree may work for a period of time in any fiscal year sufficient in length to permit a retiree to earn not in excess of 25 percent of the retiree’s average compensation.”

Relevant compensation for legislators includes their $10,000 salaries plus out-of-session per diem of $1,500 per month, a total of $22,000 to $23,500 annually.

Previously, retirees were considered ineligible to serve as legislators by Section 25-11-127 (2) and Section 25-11-109. Hood rationalized this away in his opinion. His main argument was that since Section 25-11-127(6) allows municipal and county retirees to hold office (at reduced pay), the other subsections in Section 25-11-127 and 109 did not bar retirees from serving in the Legislature.

Gunn does not buy that argument, telling Mississippi Today it allows retirees “to double dip” by drawing both legislative pay and state pension benefits. For four state retirees just elected to the House, he has refused to allow them reduced legislative compensation to meet the new guidelines. “I am simply following the law,” he said. One new member has quit and the other three have suspended their PERS benefits.

Gunn’s legal argument may not hold, but he should stick to his guns for now. Everything related to legislators and retirement should be reformed first. And with retirees already dominating the PERS board, they don’t need more influence in the Legislature until PERS’ severe financial problems are fixed.

A sensible reform would legally define legislators as part-time employees earning less than half a full-time salary. That would allow retirees to serve with full benefits while reducing taxpayers’ cost since unretired legislators currently accrue PERS benefits at full-time rates plus have their own supplemental plan (SLRP).

“This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place” — Jeremiah 7:3.

Crawford is a syndicated columnist from Meridian.


Anonymous said...

Support House Bill 254, end SLRP.

Anonymous said...

"A sensible reform would legally define legislators as part-time employees earning less than half a full-time salary. That would allow retirees to serve with full benefits while reducing taxpayers’ cost since unretired legislators currently accrue PERS benefits at full-time rates plus have their own supplemental plan (SLRP)."

No. Part-time employees should not earn PERS benefits, and NO ONE should earn SLRP benefits. However, if legislators simply earned part-time legislative pay and expenses and NOT free health insurance, retirement benefits, etc., then they could serve with pay and continue to draw PERS benefits they had already earned in other, full-time PERS-covered positions.

Oh wait, that's what Gunn said.

Anonymous said...

Crawford got this one right. And kudos to Gunn for sticking to his.

This so called 'opinon' of Hood's was just that; it was Hood's opinion, and not that of the professionals in his office that issue opinions. It was a political move by Hood preparing for a political campaign. It was not based on sound logic, reasonable interpretations of the law, and certainly not of the law itself.

It in fact overturned previous opinions of previous Attorneys General.

And it totally violated the move that the legislature made to benefit itself when it created SLURP, claiming that legislators were "FULL TIME" employees and due to their being full time were entitled to full retirement benefits. And because of their extra service to the state, those full benefits should be increased by 50%, just because they are special.

And the teacher's union is claiming that this is all those damn Republicans who are trying again to hurt teachers.

Facts are messy things - all four that are hurt by this move are republicans, and only two were teachers (the other being a retired Judge and a retired tax assessor.)

The three that are retaining their membership in the legislature are only doing what others have done before - most notably recently by (Retired) Senator Videt Carmichael and (Retired) Senator Perry Lee. Both were retired state employees (Carmichael being an educator) that passed on drawing their retirement benefits while serving as a Senator. Teachers who want to do so can just as well - but being the spoiled political brats that many of them are, they want to retire, draw the retirement benefits and then work for the same employer that they retired from.

Where else in any business can that be done?

Answer: Nowhere.

Anonymous said...

Solid move by Gunn, had to stay strong on this issue. The 4 knew absolutely that they were running on an opinion by the now ex AG, now it’s time to either resign or do like the rest of state retirees. Is it just me or is everyone getting sick of Nancy Loome!! What’s her salary btw??

Anonymous said...

I’ll stay out of the legal argument, and focus only on the economics. If the retiree-legislator were allowed to serve at 25% and retain his/her retirement, the system would receive the employer contribution (albeit on a lesser base), and there would be ZERO additional costs to the state in increased PERS or SLP as opposed to a non-retiree serving in the legislature. I’m other words, the retirement system, and the state, saves money if the retires are allowed to serve.

The three that “came out of retirement” will increase there future PERS benefits AND get the SLP.

Gunn’s position is non other that he will not allow retired teachers into the legislature-nothing else.

Anonymous said...

Gunn will lose this case when it goes to court. He needs to worry about passing laws that punish those folks that abuse their position.

Anonymous said...

Wrong 8:22. The MS Code doesn't explicitly state what the four recently-elected legislators tried to do, and Hood was wrong. Gunn is absolutely correct in saying that legislation needs to be passed for the four legislators want to be legal.

Anonymous said...

8:22,anybody can be a lawyer and opine - just ask Kenny Stokes.

I don't know where you got your law degree, but if you are so sure that Gunn will lose this one, please give some legal reasoning rather than just your recliner chair beer drinking opinion.

The existing law on the books says differently than you (and of course that wonderful legal scholar, AG Hood.) But laws be damned evidently in your world just like his - doesn't matter, jump on the popular (at least in some circles) bandwagon and hang on until the Judge drops the gavel at the end of the case.

Then ride quietly off into the sunset and no one will know it was you that offered that great insight.

Anonymous said...

Yeah Yeah tell the world what think the law says.
When Hood collects his check for representing these guys, keep it shut.

Anonymous said...

This article is BS. A simple google search of the PERS board of Trustees would show that the board is not dominated by retirees and Crawford even states that Gunn's legal argument may not hold. Plus everyone knows that the legislature is the largest offenders of double dipping in the state. Give me a break. It's a control thing.

Anonymous said...

I call B.S. on Bill Crawfords logic especially when he says “with retirees already dominating the PERS board they don't need more influence in the legislature”. So when legislators have 20-25 years in the retirement system and are looking at retirement shortly or they are seeking a higher paying political office or appointment to up their high 4 years (retirement based on high 4) they will vote on PERS issues unbiased—yea right!! The only way to keep them unbiased is to have term limits so they never get to 25 years.Gunn isn’t some hero but someone trying to hang on to his power base. After all upping the IQ of the legislature by having intelligent experienced educators , state and county professionals and other elected officials who usually have run successfully in much larger districts than legislators could be a threat in the next election.

Anonymous said...

I'm a fan of Gunn, but he is wrong on this one. There is zero difference in having a PERS recipient in the legislature and a future PERS recipient in the legislature. Several current legislators have set themselves up to make much more in retirement than any of these people Gunn is forcing out.

Anonymous said...

Seems overly discriminatory that you would allow some PERS recipients (teachers, BOS, clerks, local DA's, and numerous others) to become legislators but not former State Employees. Anyone that thinks this is about saving the state money should study up, this is about power and keeping a close knit group in power.

Anonymous said...

Here's a simple question. Is Bill Crawford, once a legislator, now drawing a PERS check or will he be eligible for one in the future?

Sure would be nice to draw the PERS check Phil is eligible for or the one being drawn by Cecil Brown or the one Jim Hood is looking at down the road. Or Harvey Johnson. Or Terry Burton. Or Bennett Malone's wife. Or Christopher Epps. Or the fireman who shot up the Jackson fire station some years back. Or the deposed, corrupt mayor of Hattiesburg. Or Dick Hall. Or Rita 'Slurp' Martinson.

Anonymous said...

Leave it to a bunch of lawyers to screw this up. If you got 10 lawyers in a room you got 20 opinions because most are two faced as is Gunn. I’m a republican by default but I am a conservative first. Gunn, as well as others, does not want the common people to be able to hold a seat in the house or senate. Too many common people may cause us politicians to lose control. So any state retiree who is drawing their honest earned retirement from PERS is not allowed to be chosen by the people of their district and be seated. That is wrong. Immoral. Gunn likens him self to the old days of Buddy Newman and the crooked democrats. If the republicans can’t do better and set us on a right path with a super majority we will eventually be turned back to the democrats and liberals. Gunn loves the control so much he even has to sit as an elder at his church. Hard to give it up.

Kingfish said...

The fireman is dead and has been for quite some time.

Anonymous said...

His wife ain't dead.

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