- Associated Press - Thursday, March 2, 2017

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi could offer a higher salary while seeking a new director for its Public Employees Retirement System, under a bill headed to the governor.

The current PERS director, Pat Robertson, said in a letter Wednesday to state agency directors, employees and retirees that she intends to retire in mid- to late 2018. She started working for the pension system in 1980 and became director in 2005.

Robertson is one of many state government employees whose salary is limited to no more than 150 percent of what the governor is paid. With the governor’s salary at $122,160, the cap is $183,240.

Sen. Barbara Blackmon, D- Canton, said Thursday that House Bill 1301 would lift the cap for the PERS director and let the pension system’s board offer a higher salary to a new person in the job. Robertson’s pay would not be affected.

Sen. Sean Tindell, R-Gulfport, said he was told the PERS board intends to set a top salary of $215,000. He said he would support the bill, although he believes PERS needs to seek higher returns on its investments.

“We can’t just keep sticking our heads in the sand like an ostrich,” Tindell said. “If we don’t do something about it, it’s going to bankrupt the state.”

Several senators expressed concerns about state spending.

“They make plenty of money as it is,” said Sen. Michael Watson, R-Pascagoula. “We’re in a budget crunch.”

The Mississippi Public Employees Retirement System has almost 400,000 members and about $26 billion in assets. More than 160 people work to manage the pension system.

Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, said Mississippi needs to offer a competitive salary.

“I just don’t think you get anywhere with cheap help,” Bryan said.

The bill had already passed the House. With some opposition, the Senate voted Thursday to send it to Republican Gov. Phil Bryant.

“As with all bills that make their way to my desk, there will be a thorough review before a decision is made, but in this budget climate, it’s a difficult time to be giving salary increases,” Bryant said in a statement Thursday.


Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: https://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .

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