Tallahassee, Florida- September 4, 2012
The state and more than a half million employees and retirees will soon be one step closer to knowing if employees will continue to pay three percent of their salaries into the pension fund. Lawmakers instituted the contribution in 2011, but this past March a judge overturned the contribution requirement. Now, the states highest court will make the decision.
Tens of thousands of police officers, teachers and state employees continue to have three percent taken out of each check as a contribution to their pensions, even though the law ordering it was ruled unconstitutional last March. The Florida Supreme Court will review the decision this week. At issue is this section of Florida law which says the state has a contract to pay the full retirement costs of employees. Matt Puckett of the Florida Police Benevolent Association is one of the plaintiffs.
“In 1974 they said if you were part of the Florida Retirement System, you will not contribute to that. That did not change, they did not take that out of the law” says Puckett.
The state relied on a 1981 ruling by the Florida Supreme Court . It lost. The ruling said the state could alter benefits for future service. A spokesman for the state personnel agency said they are keeping track of who’s contributed how much, but then he added, if they had to give it back, it could get messy”.
The good news is that the state has enough money in its rainy day fund to give everyone a refund. But Governor Rick Scott remains confident the state won’t be paying anything back. “I’m very comfortable we’re going to win. I mean, this is a thirty year old precedent, so I am very comfortable we did the right thing, and the courts will do the right thing” says the Governor.
The state has already paid a half million in legal fees and it’s prepared to pay another three hundred fifty thousand for the appeal. The state is on its third set of lawyers in the case. It has hired Raul Cantero, a former Florida Supreme Court Justice who left the court in 2008. He will argue before seven justices who are all paying the three percent contribution to their retirement.