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Senate cuts pay, but turns free health perk into a super-cheap perk.

Back in the day (a few weeks ago), when we'd ask Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander if free premiums for lawmakers and other state workers should disappear, he'd stop just short of saying "hell yes."Specifically, Alexander would say "What's good for the goose is good for the gander."

Well, that rhetorical goose is cooked. The free premiums for more than 27,000 state workers are over in the Senate's just-posted budget. Instead, they're now super cheap. Starting July 1, they'll have to fork over $5 a month for individual and $18 for family coverage. That's 10 percent of the already heavily subsidized premiums of state workers: $50/$100. Those who are promoted or hired into the category of employees who used to get free premiums must be 50 percent of the existing rate: $25/$90.

In contrast, the House refused to eliminate the so-called "pay all" categories so that the free premiums could continue.

The Senate, however, cuts legislator pay by what appears to be 7 percent under the budget implementing bill.

About 100,000 state employees pay premiums. But they pay far less than the average Floridian. The portion of premiums paid by those state workers grew by only 55 percent in the past decade, to $600 a year for individual plans and $2,160 for family coverage.

In contrast, Florida workers' premiums have skyrocketed at least 125 percent to an average of $1,133 for an individual plan and $4,697 for family coverage annually, according to a study by the liberal policy group Families USA. At the same time, their taxes picked up an increasing share of the state employees' health plan, which rapidly grew more expensive.

It looks as if state workers can rest easy, for now, because the Senate budget doesn't seem to have any pay cut language. But that's just how it seems after taking a cursory gander... er... look at the salary portion of the budget.