Protect PERS

Published 1:00 am Saturday, January 1, 2011

Who among us can look a teacher or firefighter or social worker in the eyes and say, “You have sacrificially devoted your lives and talents to a poorly paid, but critically important, career; and we deeply appreciate your service to the men, women, and children of your community — but you are not worth a decent retirement”? Who can say, “After your 25, 35 or 45 years of expertise and devotion in the classroom or keeping the streets safe or caring for the needy, a 3-percent annual cost-of-living adjustment is just too lavish for you”?

My initial astonishment at the news that Gov. Haley Barbour had unilaterally created a study commission to recommend changes to the Public Employees’ Retirement System I felt a cold sense of betrayal.

I still cannot fathom his motives since PERS has for decades been widely regarded as one of the best-managed state retirement programs in the country. That PERS has felt the effects of the deep recession which has shaken every economic sector is no surprise, and even those intent upon slashing this humble income of public service retirees agree that the PERS fund balance will recover within a few years.

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It is unconscionable that Gov. Barbour and PERS Study Commission Chair George Schloegel would coldly violate the retirement promises made to our under-compensated public servants. Beyond the almost certain breach of contract this would represent is a cruel laugh at the modest expectations of PERS retirees.

Whatever their motives may be, whatever the source of the callousness thus displayed, the people of Mississippi and the legislators by whom we are represented must not allow the recommended changes to PERS. We must look our public service workers in the eyes and tell them, “We will stand beside you because you have labored honorably for us.”

Melissa McKenney Harris

Pass Christian, Miss.