Judge Hears Florida Retirement Contribution Case

By: Bill Kaczor, Associated Press Email
By: Bill Kaczor, Associated Press Email

Tallahassee, FL (AP) -- October 26, 2011 --

A judge on Wednesday repeatedly challenged the state's defense of a new law that requires public employees to contribute 3 percent of their pay to the Florida Retirement System.

The Florida Education Association, other public employee unions
and several individual workers have asked Circuit Judge Jackie
Fulford to strike down the law. It also eliminates annual 3 percent
cost-of-living increases on any pension benefits earned after it
went into effect on July 1.

Fulford gave no indication when she'll rule. The case is
expected to wind up before the Florida Supreme Court.

The unions contend the law violates contract, property and
collective bargaining rights guaranteed by the Florida Constitution. A 1974 law that eliminated employee contributions to the retirement fund also says pension benefits are a contract right.

Doug Hinson, a lawyer hired by the state, argued the Legislature
had the authority to take that action under its constitutional
budgeting powers.

Hinson cited a 1981 Florida Supreme Court ruling upholding a
1978 law that reduced extra benefits for law enforcement officers.
The opinion in Florida Sheriffs Association v. Department of
Administration says lawmakers can "modify or alter prospectively
the mandatory, noncontributory retirement plan for active state
employees."

Fulford questioned Hinson's interpretation.

"It does not say you can gut it," Fulford said. "It doesn't
say you can do away with it. It doesn't say you can change it to
voluntary. It doesn't say you can change it to contributory."

Florida Education Association lawyer Ron Meyer similarly argued
the ruling does not apply to the current case because the
Legislature went well beyond modifying or altering, and instead
changed the retirement system's fundamental nature.

Hinson, though, downplayed the significance of those changes.

"They're not repealing the whole thing," he said. "They are
altering it."

The law had the effect of cutting pay by 3 percent for about
560,000 teachers, police officers and other state and local
government employees.

Hinson and co-counsel David Godofsky displayed charts on a large
screen showing employees' retirement benefits still will increase
based on additional time of service after July 1.

Fulford, though, stepped down from the bench and pointed to
other numbers on the screen showing an employee's benefits will be
less than what they would have been without the cost-of-living
change.

One example on the chart was for plaintiff George Williams, head
custodian for the Madison County School District. His projected
retirement benefits would drop by $26,536 and his contributions
would total $5,856 by the time he retires.

"He's paying more and getting less," Fulford said. "You are
punishing him for continuing to work."

Meyer said he was encouraged by Fulford's comments.

"She obviously gets it," he said.

The defendants include Gov. Rick Scott. He chairs a board that
oversees investments for the $121.6 billion pension fund. Scott had
asked the Legislature to make employees contribute 5 percent. He
said public employees should be treated the same as private sector
workers who in most cases must contribute if they have pension
plans.

Hinson acknowledged the retirement changes were made as a
cost-cutting measure, not to beef up the pension fund. Florida's
retirement plan is rated as one of the nation's strongest. Employer
contributions were reduced by more than $1 billion and that means
employees now are paying more than half of the plan's annual cost,
Meyer said.

"I personally, your honor, am not without concern for the
employees that have been impacted by this change," Hinson told the
judge. "But what the Legislature has done is spread the impact of
a fairly significant budget reduction across an entire population
of employees."

The pension changes were less onerous than other budget-cutting
options lawmakers had considered such as pay cuts and layoff, he
said.

Meyer, though, later said the budget could have been balanced
without changing the retirement system because lawmakers socked
away $1.2 billion in reserve funds.

He told Fulford the plaintiffs are not challenging the state's
right to require employees hired after July 1 to contribute or
eliminate the cost-of-living adjustments when they retire.

"But the state got greedy," Meyer said. "The state said,
`We're going to forget the contract and we're going to dip into
employees' pockets."'

-------------------------------------------------------------

TALLAHASSEE 10/26/2011 -- The hearing on Wednesday is expected to just be the first step on a path leading to the Florida Supreme Court.

The Florida Education Association and other unions contend the law is unconstitutional. They say it violates public employees' contract, property and collective bargaining rights.

Defendants in the suit include Gov. Rick Scott. He chairs a board that oversees investments for the $121.6 billion Florida Retirement System.

Scott had asked the Legislature to make employees contribute 5 percent, but lawmakers approved only 3 percent.

Unions say it also amounts to a pay cut for teachers, state and county workers and some city employees.


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Comments are posted from viewers like you and do not always reflect the views of this station.
  • by THE TRUTH Location: SLAVES LAND USA on Nov 3, 2011 at 08:59 AM
    I HAVE A GREAT IDEA! HOW ABOUT WE THE PEOPLE DEMAND EVERY RICH POLITICIAN, PRESIDENT, LAWMAKER, SENATOR,JUDGE, LAWYER AND SO ON TO CONTRIBUTE THREE(3) MILLION DOLLARS EACH PER YEAR FOR OUR RETIREMENT FUND SINCE WE THE PEOPLE IN FACT DO PAY ALL THEIR RETIREMENT WITHOUT KNOWLEDGE OF IT FROM OUR TAX MONEY AND SINCE THEY EMBEZZLE PUBLIC FUNDS AS WELL IN FACT LETS TAKE THEM TO COURT FOR TREASON..... CORRUPTED FRAUD ON ALL PEOPLE OF THE WORLD HUH I REALLY WONDER IF PEOPLE KNOW THIS IS TRUE INFO IF NOT SUGGEST YOU LOOK INTO IT...HINT HINT
  • by monticello Location: monticello on Oct 27, 2011 at 05:56 AM
    YOU GO MS. JACKIE, SET THEM THEM STRAIGHT. CAN'T WAIT TO VOTE SCOTT OUT. HE'S HAS PLENTY OF MONEY AND DOESN'T GIVE A CARE ABOUT US HARD WORKING MIDDLE CLASS FAMILIES THAT LIVE PAY CHECK TO PAY CHECK NOW.
  • by tiredofthedevilsmess on Oct 27, 2011 at 05:41 AM
    OUST rick scott, OUST rick scott, OUST rick scott and all his legislator cohorts. They need investigating also,if you get my drift, ie. under the table perks so to speak.
  • by Anonymous on Oct 27, 2011 at 05:12 AM
    This is an open and shut case; breach of contract has been commited by the state on it's employees. These court procedings are a complete waste of tax payer money.
  • by RICKY BOBBY on Oct 26, 2011 at 08:21 PM
    RICK SCOTT AGAIN WILL BE CITED THAT HE BROKE THE RULES ON REQUIRING STATE WORKERS TO CONTRIBUTE TO THEIR RETIREMENT.I CAN SAY THAT THE STATE WORKER HAS BEEN TARGETED BY RICK SCOTT DURING HIS CAMPAIGN AND NOW HE IS TRYING HIS BEST TO REPLACE THE STATE WORKER WITH A PRIVATE WORKER THAT WILL PRODUCE LESS AND THE COMPANY HE OR SHE WORKS FOR WILL COST MORE IN THE LONG TERM. THE BOTTOM LINE IS THE BOTTOM LINE YOU CANNOT WORK ANY CHEAPER WITH THE GREAT RESULTS CURRRENTLY PRODUCE BY NOW THE STATE WORKER.RICK SCOTT IS THE TYPICAL REPUBLICAN CARPETBAGGER PULLING THE WOOL OVER OUR EYES WHILE HIS HANDS ARE IN OUR POCKETS
  • by Random Government Employee on Oct 26, 2011 at 07:56 PM
    Hey Chris did you forget that state workers are taxpayers too. They make less because they make up for it in benefits that were promised them in a contract when they were hired. No one does what state workers do unless they are paid by the state to do it. If you want to gripe about the way state money is wasted gripe about the private industries that are sucking at the teat of the people by overcharging for labor done. I do not know why the newspapers and politicians call it privatization. It is contract work. All the money these corporations get that are wanting to take over prisons come from your tax dollars. All of the companies that provide health services do it to make money off Medicaid and Medicare. Your tax dollars. If the state gave as much money to the workers of the state instead of paying the 3 figure salaries of administrators of these corporate entities Florida would be a Utopia. They could do twice as much with the same money that any corporation does and not have greed thrown into the mix. All the moeny that Rick Scott is giving to corporations to entice them to come to Florida is your tax money. There is no corporation who can do it cheaper than state workers nor with the dedication that people willing to work for the small amounts of money they are paid to do it. State workers contribute to their financial futures by helping others while private companies do it by helping themselves. Does the private company you work for feed people or protect the most vulnerable and how many tax breaks did they get to feed their own greed instead of using the vast profits to create jobs? Oh by the way that raises your tax debt because whether you like it or not you are a worker bee just like everyone else.
  • by Another state worker Location: Tallahassee on Oct 26, 2011 at 07:13 PM
    I hope we get our back-pay (when it's ruled that Florida law was broken) in time for Christmas. Then we can help the economy again. Problem is... ol' Rick Scrooge doesn't care about the law and doesn't mind spending $500 an hour of our money to stop Florida from prospering. And he won't mind spending twice as much of our money to damage Florida's economy in the Supreme Court. If only the ghost of Christmas past visited him... the one from 1974... when employee contributions were eliminated, allowing the FRS to grow to the most reliable and successful one in the country. I hope it doesn't cost Florida too much to undo the damage once we are rid of him.
  • by chris Location: tally on Oct 26, 2011 at 06:13 PM
    Awww. Poor state worker doesn't want to contribute to their own financial future. Quit the union and contribute your previous dues toward your retirement. Also private business is tired of supporting your retirement. Before you scream that you pay taxes too; NO YOU DON'T. You are just returning some of the money private industry gave to the state to give to you.
  • by Old School Justice on Oct 26, 2011 at 05:46 PM
    Theft is theft. The State is stealing from the workers. Unite! Fight! Win!
  • by anonymous on Oct 26, 2011 at 05:46 PM
    I work in the private sector, took a 10% cut two years ago (still haven't gotten it back), and contribute to my own insurance. We've all had it bad. But state still gets better retirement and time off than I do. Think of those who'd like to have your job.
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