Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Will Leg Approve "Double-Dip" Bill for MDOT?

 Frank Corder authored this column on Y'all Politics.  It is reprinted with the site's permission.

The issue of whether a state elected official should be able to draw on their retirement and receive a state salary as required by law has raised its head once again.

State Senator Michael McClendon (R) has filed SB 2475 which seeks to revise the statute that requires mandatory compensation for Mississippi Transportation Commissioners, making the salary discretionary for each Commissioner.

The bill would amend MS Code Section 65-1-7 by adding the words “be entitled to” within the section. If adopted, the section would read:

“The three (3) commissioners chosen as herein provided, and their successors, shall each be entitled to receive as compensation for their services salaries fixed by the Legislature, and in addition shall be allowed all of their actual and necessary traveling and other expenses incurred in the performance of their respective official duties.”

Mississippi’s elected Transportation Commissioners earn $78,000 per year. There are three Commissioners which represent the Northern, Central and Southern districts of the state.

 Prior to being elected as a Northern District Transportation Commissioner, John Caldwell served as a DeSoto County Supervisor for two terms from 1996-2003 and was in the Desoto County School District for 14 years.  Central District Commissioner Willie Simmons served as a Deputy Commissioner for the Department of Corrections before serving as a state senator for 26 years.  Chairman Tom King spent nearly two decades in the state legislature and is now serving his third term as Southern District Commissioner.

Senator McClendon’s bill is aimed at allowing the Commissioners to elect to take a lower salary so they can continue to concurrently draw PERS benefits.

Senator McClendon told Y’all Politics on Monday that Northern District Transportation Commissioner Caldwell had requested the change.

A similar practice of allowing elected lawmakers to draw incomes from state service and retirement at the same time has been shunned by the Legislature and the IRS in the past.

Following the 2019 statewide election, a group of freshmen state representatives, all PERS retirees, sought to be allowed to “double dip,” drawing from their retirement and from a legislative salary. Speaker Philip Gunn (R) said at that time, “It is not right for taxpayers to have to fund both,” meaning the lawmakers’ legislative pay and their PERS benefits.

The saga began in November 2018 and January 2019 when former state Attorney General Jim Hood (D) issued opinions regarding PERS retirees serving in the Mississippi Legislature and continuing to receive benefits, according to PERS. In response to those opinions, the PERS Board of Trustees approved initial adoption in April 2019 of revisions to PERS Board Regulation 34, Reemployment after Retirement, allowing PERS retirees to serve in the state Legislature while continuing to receive benefit payments under certain conditions. Those revisions were officially adopted by the Board at their December 2019 meeting.

Then, in May 2020, the IRS provided a response to PERS whereby they declined to rule on the request to allow retired teachers to serve as legislators while still getting their full PERS benefits, vindicating Speaker Gunn in his position on the matter. This resulted in resignations from the freshmen lawmakers and special elections held to replace them.

Previous efforts to amend state law to allow elected lawmakers to “double dip” have failed in the Legislature as recently as the 2020 session.

However, the practice has been allowed for some time on the local level. Certain city councilmen and county elected officials are doing exactly what Commissioner Caldwell is asking for with Senator McClendon’s bill.

Advocates say allowing an official to draw their retirement instead of being forced to accept a state salary for an elected position saves the state money in the long run.

Opponents maintain that those same officials, for the most part, continue to accrue PERS benefits in their role as an elected official and thus should not be allowed to draw from PERS.  Further, as noted above, state law has, up to this point, required state elected officials to receive a compensation for their services at the amount designated by statute. Hence, the notion of “double dipping” at the taxpayers’ expense.

McClendon’s bill has been double referred, meaning it must pass out of both the Senate Highways and Transportation Committee and the Senate Accountability, Efficiency, Transparency Committee before it could reach the Senate floor. That is a tall order for a bill, especially given the history of such efforts in the past.

You can read the full bill here.


Anonymous said...

Double referred means DOA.

Anonymous said...

To me it seems unfair that someone retired in PERS can't do this. Just sayin.

Anonymous said...

How about SLRP for first responders too! NOTHING but a campaign ploy by Wiggins. Pathetic.

Anonymous said...

SLRP it up. Pigs at the trough.

Anonymous said...

If they are for it, I'm agin it.

Anonymous said...

I’m 67 years old and retired from 2 jobs! I only retired because I looked around and said it’s time to move on and let these young bucks take over.

These old heads with their antiquated thoughts need to sit their old asses down and enjoy the fruits of their labor! We are sick of the Willie Simmons and the like.

The VA is so screwed up for the same reasons, retired 50, 60 and 70 year old Military retirees getting GS 14+ jobs!

We can’t move on with the same old good ole boys!

Go home Mr Willie and the boys!

Nothing against Mr. Willie Simmons his name was one in the article.

Anonymous said...

Worked 30 years and retired, get another Cush job after retirement, draw Social Security while still working at Cush job. 70+ years old. Drop dead the day after decided to leave the work sector for good.

Now who did that scenario benefit?

Are they really that valuable!!!


Anonymous said...

Willie Simmons has sucked at the PERS tit at least as far back as 1968 when he was an on-site 'counselor' at Parchman Penitentiary. Assuming my math is correct, that's 54 years. And you people thought Cecil 'The Frown' Brown was the champ of benefits.

Anonymous said...

Now comes the most honorable representative from Leake/Scott with a bill to 'carve out' a special retirement program for all men and women in uniform (other than MHP which already has a separate program). The bill would allow all sworn officers of municipal and county government to fully retire, under PERS, with TWENTY years.

In his pandering comment on Supertalk, he opined that since military can retire at 20, then so should our police officers.

He readily admitted that it would be impossible to fund such a retirement program and have it viable but 'hopes it can be out there on the table'. I Wanted Gerard to ask the honorable legislator if he would be willing to redraw the SLRP regulations and use all of that fund to fund such a program for LEO, which will never fly anyway.

How many more special programs will we allow our legislature to dream up under PERS?

Anonymous said...

Amazing that Commissioner Caldwell (from that denzien of right-wing nuts in DeSoto County) would think that he should be able to do what the courts and the legislature just a year ago said that legislators could not do.

Colonel Caldwell is used to milking the tit every way possible: Military reserves (nice military retirement benefits); DeSoto County as an elected official but finished out his 20 years working for the school district; and now with his wife also on PERS, he wants to draw that retirement while still working for the state.

Legislators resigned their positions when told they couldn't do that; wonder what the Commissioner will do.

Anonymous said...

These positions should not exist - but do primarily to take the heat off the legislature for transportation issues.

Since they do exist and likely are not going away anytime soon - the state should pay considerably more than $78k annually.

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