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Weatherford gearing up for another pension showdown

Are all government employees in Florida treated equal?

We’re about to find out in what promises to be a sequel to one of the biggest legislative showdowns last year: Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate Republicans like Jack Latvala who have strong union support.

Weatherford lost the dramatic first round last year, when a third of Senate Republicans joined Democrats in voting 22-18 against a bill that would have banned new state workers, teachers and county workers from joining the state’s $132 billion pension system. Instead, they would have been steered into private, 401(k)-style investment plans. Such a bill would have shifted the risk from taxpayers to workers.

Pension reform was a top priority for Weatherford last year. He’s of the belief that the $500 million used to shore up the Florida Retirement System is money better spent elsewhere. He believes that while it’s generally regarded as one of the more secure public pensions in the nation, it’s doomed to fail one of these days. He share this belief with two entities -- the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the James Madison Institute, a Tallahassee libertarian think tank that promote similar beliefs. Weatherford’s father-in-law, former House Speaker Allan Bense, sits on the boards for both.

Weatherford vowed he would return with new legislation this year. On Thursday, he met with representatives from the Florida Professional Firefighters, the Florida Police Benevolent Association, Florida State Fraternal Order of Police and the Florida Sheriff’s Association to discuss the upcoming legislation.

Following that meeting, the union representatives walked across the hall for a 15-minute meeting with Senate President Don Gaetz.

What’s the deal? Where are the other union groups included in the Florida Retirement System that would like to know what’s being proposed?

Chances are they wouldn’t like what’s being considered: the exemption of those public safety, or “special risk,” employees from this year’s legislation. So while new teachers, county workers and state workers would be subject to the new rules, preventing them from getting the guaranteed returns they get now, new special risk employees would not.

Indeed, on Friday, Weatherford and Gaetz requested actuarial studies that would shape legislation excluding special risk employees, while including all other classes.

"Reforming our state pension system is important to the Florida House,” Weatherford said in a statement. “I have said since the end of last Session that I would bring forth another pension bill this year. The Legislature will submit different options to actuaries so that we can have accurate and transparent information on the impact of any changes to the system.”

So why the special treatment for law enforcement and firefighters?

“We are seeking input and we wanted to hear from the police and firefighters' unions,” Weatherford said. “There is a valid argument that they should be exempt."

Like he did last year, Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, will try to pass a bill in the Senate that overhauls the state's pension system. (Not only do the two lawmakers hail from the same county, Pasco, Simpson actually employs Weatherford, paying him $31,500 in 2012 for a consulting job.)

It won’t be until the actuarial reports are done in about six weeks that we’ll have a clearer view of this year’s legislation on pension.

But Simpson said his legislation could end up allowing the special risk employees an exemption not afforded the other groups. And that preferential treatment is ok, he said.

“When I look at special risk, they are risking their lives, they’re getting killed to protect and serve,” Simpson said Friday. “That makes them different than the other employees. They are special risk, they risk their lives for us, that does make things different.”

Gaetz said there is no legislation yet and there may be no exclusions. He said the purpose of Thursday’s meeting was only to seek their input.

“I’m not committing myself to supporting any particular approach,” Gaetz said.

Lisa Henning, who attended the meeting as lobbyist for the FOP, said her group didn’t ask for the exemption and may still not support the legislation.

“I think the FRS is fine the way it is,” Henning said.

But the meetings smack of special treatment, said Latvala, who hasn’t seen any of the proposed legislation.

“It’s a separate and conquer strategy, obviously,” he said. “They take the groups that traditionally support Republicans and separate them from the other workers. If the idea is good enough for the other state employees, why isn’t it considered good enough for the special risk employees.”

Comments

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ed jenkins

The citizens greatly appreciate the wise weatherford for his looking out for the taxpayers. Businesses realized decades ago that defined benefit pension plans put them on the path to insolvency and some recent auto manufacturers had to enter bankruptcy to get out from under pension burdens. It is best for the workers as well since they can be certain of their future rather than planning to receive a pension in retirement only to find out the state can't afford to pay it leaving them earning a fraction of what they thought they would get.

Can't take anymore

How thoughtful of Weatherford to assure that retirees from public sector jobs will spend their final days in poverty. The deal has always been that public sector jobs paid much less but had better benefits and a decent retirement package. Little Willie simply wants to only guarantee much lower wages since he has absolutely no use for public employees. Maybe they should use his business model of marrying a rich politician's daughter as their career choice.

Hmmmm

If you want to really see the cost drivers of a defined benefit plan, keep it only for the special risk who has been subsidized by all other employment classes.

As for Weatherford's continual complaint of having to put in an additional $500 million a year... What is the difference between this year and the year before employees had to start putting in 3% of their pay? My guess is the government is still on the winning side of that equation for several reasons.

Add in the fact that Repulicans gave payment holidays - essentially nearly a decade of reduced payments for the government to the pension plan amounting to $12 billion and you realize this was a problem created by the republicans. The only problem is that Weatherford's was probably in middle or high school when that happened and hasn't put it in perspective or probably just doesn't care.

Divide and conquer. Help friends and screw enemies. But enemies in this case are the teachers who have been tasked with teaching our children - 49% of the FRS.

Raretomes

Florida has become the Walmart of state governments. State workers have been the lowest paid and most productive of any state for many years. The promises of better pay and benefits for a more skilled work force from the Bush years never happened. The legislature keeps sending the message; "Work hard, die broke."

Randall McMurphy

Weatherford is a hypocrite whose family got government aid when they bred too many kids to afford then he denied medicaid to everyone else.

Pension is the same thing. Legislators get the same cushy benefits that Fire, Police, and "in harm's way" employees get--yet they work only 60 days per year.

The best thing that could happen this legislative session is for a large meteor to demolish Tallahassee.

Pablo

Right now, state legislators are covered in the FRS, even though they are considered part-time. The legislators give themselves a preferential, much higher multiplier percentage rate to accrue their annual pension credits than the rank and file state employee.

If Weatherford is truly concerned about state FRS pension reform, he can start by changing the pension benefits for legislators first. The overworked, overtaxed citizens of Florida object to legislators treating themselves as a special elite class while sticking it to the rank and file worker.

Pablo

Rich Crotty, a former state legislator, property appraiser and mayor of Orange County, left office in January, 2011 with a lump sum of $365,584 and an annual pension of nearly $127,000. Crotty, 62, quickly found another job, working for Crossman & Co., an Orlando-based retail leasing and management firm.

Frederica Wilson earned pension benefits as a teacher, principal, school board member and state legislator before being elected to Congress, representing parts of Broward and Miami-Dade counties. In October 2008, she got a lump sum of $354,912 on top of a state pension check.

Wilson, 68, now collects retirement benefits of nearly $70,000 a year — plus her salary of $174,000 as a Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives. If she serves a minimum of five years in Congress, she'll be eligible for a pension from the federal government as well.

Carlos

Here are two questions to ask.
1. How do expect to continue paying those on the pension plan if you don't bring in new members to pay into it.
2. How is us that the 3% employes had to pay to shore up the pension did not go for that purpose and instead the state took 3% out and shifted it to the general budget.

Why not cap the amount that it's pay out in the pension so the fat cats do not get those huge amounts the reality is the majority of those with pension get around 20k a year

Hal Bedlam

Funny how no one ever checks in on Weatherfords claims that the State puts $500 million into FRS to "prop it up." The truth is the State has never done it. The $500 million is set aside and could be used for better things but is not because this is Weatherfords ax to scare people. Truth is FRS never received that money and has never needed it. Weatherdord is a shady as they come.

D

Hey morons including pablo the communist manifest spouting idiot we are not a bank and hmm we taxpayers are these people's parents who are supposed to be worries about these people and their retirement issues. Cut these fixed payments that screw us taxpayers and if these people don't like it they can find another job.

Hmmmm

D - is the a $1,400 a month check to a teacher after 30 years of service a windfall? I think not, and is by far "screwing us taxpayers"... And this is after they have worked for 30 years making on average $4,000 less than other nearby states... so to make up a little bit extra to guarantee a little in retirement is not all that bad.

As for buying into the hype because of big numbers being thrown around... $500 million... Florida has one of the nation's largest pension plans because it consolidates MANY smaller pension plans... You know, all the horror stories you are reading about in the news today... this was done back in the 1970's to avoid just this scenario.

So we are in a downturn and working through it... as I mentioned, we wouldn't be here if it were not for the republican's throwing around contribution holidays when the fund was above 100%... did they never expect the financial markets to have a downturn? Geesh... again, if it were not for those 10 years and $12 billion they didn't collect, the fund would be over 100% right now... but they are complaining about it now, because most of them are too young to know what happened just 15 years ago - Weatherford was in high school.

So, let the pension plan work its way back up, and leave it alone, and it will forever be okay...

Tinker with it, give contribution holidays, and then claim the sky is falling without acknowledging the facts and then you look like an idiot.

David

These wimps keep attacking the County and State employees, but not one of them would do the type of work we do on a daily basis, such as working in the sewer system with hundreds of diseases that are worse than getting shot!!! How would you like going through life knowing you are dying from some ungodly disease that’s incurable or that you only have days or a few months to live and then find out that your family will get nothing when you finally pass away!!! I would love for one of these polititians or their followers to come and work with us for a week!! Twenty Four hours a day Seven days a week we are there in all weather conditions, before, during and after all disasters. While you all are home clean and safe and as long as you don't have to see, feel, touch, or look at your waste and you have clean water to drink and take your showers and bath your kids; everything is fine isn't it???? Come and do my job; I promiss I will show you what real work is about, Oh and don't worry about your Suit and Tie; just bring as much protection as you can and definatelly wear deodorant!!!

Disgusted

Obviously, the best thing to do is to remove the legislators from the plan altogether. Also - since teachers are no longer in a "special" class, no reason they can't strike to better their contracts as most other states do!

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