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Judge to rule Tuesday whether legislators dug a $2 billion budget hole or not

Leon County Circuit Court Judge Jackie Fulford announced Monday that she will announce her decision in the union lawsuit against the state over state worker pensions at a special hearing in her courtroom on Tuesday.

Depending on how Fulford rules, legislators could face a $2 billion budget hole or dodge a bullet. The Florida Education Association and other state and local government unions sued the state last year after the Legislature cut worker salaries 3 percent, eliminated cost of living adjustments, or COLAs, for retirement benefits, and shifted the money into the general revenue fund to save the state $1 billion during the 2011 legislative session.

If Fulford rules against the state, legislators may have to find $1 billion to repay state workers for the money removed from their salaries this year and come up with another $1 billion to repair another budget in the 2012-13 budget year. If she rules in favor of the state, the 3 percent cut from worker salaries will remain. 

Fulford heard arguments in the case Oct. 25 and concluded that the state broke the contract with employees but left unanswered whether the move was unconstitutional.

Senate President Mike Haridopolos is no fan of Fulford, who previously ruled to throw out a legislative plan to privatize 30 South Florida prisons because they used the budget to make the policy change. He predicted that if she ruled against the state there would be "chaos" and the state would appeal the ruling immediately.

"I think this is so clear cut,'' Haridopolos said. "Forty-seven other states already do this. We used to do it  until the early 1970s and every person who pays for their own pensions …thinks it is common sense. Let alone it will blow a $1 billion hole in last year’s budget and cause chaos and blow $1 billion hole in this year’s budget which would cause further chaos.

"If the judge should rule against what I think is the law of the land in Florida -- and is supported by the House and Senate -- then we would immediately challenge that because it would be the ultimate case of judicial activism and, sadly, that ‘s nothing new for this particular judge.”