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Only Rep. Nettles favors keeping retirement perk

Some Lincoln County and area lawmakers are among thehighest-paid members of the state legislature over the last 13months, according to a new report from the State Auditor’sOffice.

At $49,902, Dist. 36 Sen. Lynn Posey, D-Union Church, was secondonly to Biloxi Sen. Tommy Gollott’s $49,946 pay for the period fromMay 1, 1999, to May 30, 2000. Posey, whose district includes twonorthwest Lincoln County precincts, was unavailable forcomment.

Lawmakers’ compensation is based on $10,000 in base salary,$1,500 a month when they’re not in session, plus reimbursement formileage, meals and lodging.

On the House side, Dist. 53’s Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, washighest among area representatives with $42,170. Dist. 97 Rep. ClemNettles, D-Jayess, was not far behind at $40,155.

Moak and Nettles, whose district includes half of LincolnCounty’s Ruth precinct, were also unavailable.

Dist. 92 Rep. Dr. Jim Barnett and Dist. 91 Rep. Joey Hudson wereboth below the House average of almost $37,500. Barnett’scompensation was listed as $36,041 while Hudson’s was $35,837.

Hudson said report totals were “misleading.” He pointed out someof the compensation was mileage reimbursement, which would notaffect him as much as some other lawmakers.

“Some folks drive farther than I do,” Hudson said. “A lot ofthat is mileage.”

For lawmakers closer to Jackson with higher pay totals, Hudsonsaid they are probably committee chairmen who attend a lot ofmeetings.

“I think we’re paid well enough,” Hudson said.

Barnett said there are a lot of expenses associated with being alawmaker. However, he said often travels to meetings or otherevents and does not ask for reimbursement.

“I go on my own nickel,” Barnett said.

Both Barnett and Hudson took exception to charges by some thatbeing a legislator is a “part-time job.”

Factoring in handling calls from constituents and other duties,Hudson said it is ridiculous to say the job is only three monthsout of the year. If anyone believes it to be a part-time job,Barnett said, they are welcome to follow him around and pay hiscellular phone bill for legislative work.

“If it’s done right, it’s not a part-time job,” Barnett said. “Iput my heart in it and my time.”

Dist. 39 Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith’s compensation was listed as$20,569, the lowest among senators. The freshman lawmaker, however,was not in office the full 13 months.

The average senator’s compensation was $39,300.

Making a subtraction for a 13th month, lawmakers’ average paywould drop by around $3,000 to $34,500 for House members and$36,300 for Senators for the 12-month period. In comparison,Mississippians earn about $20,500 annually, the lowest per personincome total in the country.

Tuesday’s auditor’s report was released just two days beforelawmakers return to Jackson Thursday for a special session on aretirement perk they approved for themselves in the closing days ofthe 2000 session. The perk would give lawmakers double theretirement benefits of other state employees.

Most area lawmakers voiced support for repealing thecontroversial retirement benefit.

“I don’t think lawmakers deserve any more retirement than theman out there driving the bush hog,” Hyde-Smith said. “We’re stateemployees. We don’t work for a Fortune 500 company.”

Posey told the Clarion Ledger he would vote to repealthe retirement benefit. Moak has said he would look at financialtotals involved and indicated he would support a repeal.

Nettles is the only area lawmaker to voice support for theretirement benefit enhancement. The representative told the Jacksonnewspaper he would vote against repealing the retirementaction.

Hyde-Smith said she believes the perk was definitely slippedinto a late-session conference report unknowingly. If lawmakers hadknown it was included in the conference report, they would not havevoted for it, she believes.

“I feel it’s very unfair,” the senator said. “We do need tocorrect it.”

Barnett and Hudson also mentioned the way the perk washandled.

Hudson said 62 conference reports were handled on the day theperk was passed and lawmakers did not have a hard copy of thereport for them to look at. Had the benefit been emphasized andexplained during report discussion, he did not think it would havepassed.

“It wouldn’t be right and it wasn’t right to begin with,” Hudsonsaid.

Barnett pointed out the number of bills handled.

“We were running bills through there like cows at a sale,” hesaid.

Barnett said lawmakers trust conferees assigned to work outdifference in House and Senate versions of bills. However, hebelieves lawmakers have learned a lesson and will be moresuspicious in the future.

“I think some good will come out of this,” Barnett said.