Gov. Haley Barbour is the best political tactician I have ever known. He knows his voters and he knows how to push their buttons to get them to push the button for Republican candidates.

But, I think he may be slipping a bit lately. Those who look to Father Haley to lead them down the right political path might walk off a cliff over a seemingly harmless issue.

Last week, Barbour announced the formation of a commission to study and make recommendations about the Mississippi Public Employees Retirement System.

Study a concern

Sounds innocent. It couldn’t hurt to study the retirement system. But the announcement in the midst of an election will immediately raise red flags for state and local government employees, teachers, law enforcement personnel and others who depend on the system. They already are defensive about it. They also provide one of the strongest political forces in the state.

Like retirement systems nationally, PERS has suffered. It was hit by investment losses with the recession, losses that have been recouped somewhat. PERS is funded less than is recommended.

Is PERS failing? Are the retirement funds in jeopardy? No. By no means. It is one of the healthier systems nationally. Does it need attention? Yes.

The law requires the Legislature to fund PERS to keep it solid. That has been tough with budget pressures, but contributions were increased and benefits trimmed for future employees.

The Barbour PERS commission is charged with analyzing and making recommendations about: the ratio of taxpayer contributions and employee contributions; the management of PERS and makeup of the board that oversees it; investments; and, the legality of modifying the benefit structure for current and future state employees.

A study of PERS would seem logical. But, the facts of PERS and the politics of PERS are two different things.

Read the rest of the story here.

Clarion Ledger
8/19/11