Court Rules Florida Worker Pension Changes Legal, Workers and Reps React

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Tallahassee, FL - A 2011 law that requires government workers to contribute 3 percent of their salaries to the state pension system was upheld today by the Florida Supreme Court.

WCTV spoke with a state worker and a member from the Florida House of Representatives about what this decision means to them.

Derrikas Salters, Department of Management Service: "I was real surprised, instead of giving us a raise, they cutting us."

That's the reaction of Derrikas Salters, a state worker who says he depends on every penny in his paycheck to help pay bills.

Derrikas Salters, Department of Management Service: "I have kids and stuff, I have to take care of my kids and everything like that"

Florida Rep., Mark Pafford feels the decision to take 3 percent from the paychecks of state employees is disappointing.

Rep. Mark S. Pafford (D) West Palm Beach, stated, "obviously it's something people depend on. Salaries aren't too high to begin with and it's something that families would expect and the Legislature took it away."

Senate Appropriations Chairman, Joe Negron, says the state could have been required to repay more than $1 billion to workers if it had lost the case. He feels government employees should help pay for their retirement packages, as private-sector workers do.

Sen. Joe Negron/(R) Stuart: "if the Florida Supreme Court decided that the Legislature had unlawfully taken money from state employees including legislators and judges then we would have been duty bound to repay that money with interest immediately so we would have been prepared to do that."

Pafford feels that although the legislature needs to make important decisions this decision was not fair.

Rep. Mark S. Pafford (D) West Palm Beach: "it hurt real people trying to make a living and enjoy the fruits of their labor and unfortunately that's what we're going to have to deal with."

Tallahassee, FL - Governor Rick Scott won his largest victory ever from the Florida Supreme Court today when he said it was okay for the state to take a three percent pension contribution from public employees. Unions had argued the three percent violated their contract and collective bargaining rights. At least one union says it will take the fight to the 2014 election.

Teachers, police, firefighters, and thousands of state, city and county employees have been contributing three percent of their paychecks to their pensions since July 2011. Last year a circuit judge ruled the taking was illegal and ordered a refund. But now the Florida Supreme Court, says it was okay. Matt Puckett of the Florida Police Benevolent Association isn’t happy, or surprised. “This is going to be difficult for the officers. I think it was because of the circuit court decision there was hope that this may be reversed”, says Puckett. The decision was 4-3.

What the court said in this forty-eight page opinion is if the legislature couldn’t start asking for 3% going forward, it could never change any benefit plan.

Tax revenues are slowly recovering, State Senator Alan Hays (R-Umatilla), calls the decision a relief, freeing cash the state does not have to refund. “From the practical standpoint, Mike, it says that we now don’t have to be concerned about trying to make up the billion dollars in revenue decrease that we would otherwise would have to made up”, says Hays.

Florida TaxWatch calls the decision good for taxpayers. “What it means is you don’t have fiscal handcuffs. You can make changes”, says Dominic Calabro, Florida TaxWatch.

Florida Teachers say they will continue the fight to the 2014 ballot box. “We’re going to have to have a focus on changing the politicians in Tallahassee who don’t care about working Floridians”, says Andy Ford, Florida Education Association.

State employees have not had a raise in six years.

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