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Sen. Alexander: Doesn't matter what judge says on pensions, budget stands

Senate budget chairman JD Alexander said Tuesday that no matter how Leon County Circuit Court Judge Jackie Fulford rules on the union lawsuit against the state over state worker pensions today, it will have "no bearing at all" on this year's budget or last year's budget. 

"How would the legislature violate the law? How can the court direct appropriations, they can't,'' he said. "Neither can the executive branch, neither can a previous legislature. Only this legislature can direct constitutional appropriations. Period. End of story."

Speculation has been that 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 and shifted the money into the general revenue fund to save the state $1 billion during the 2011 legislative session. Lawmakers continued the shift again this year.

But was the move illegal? If Fulford rules that the state broke its contract with state workers can when they took $1 billion from their salaries last year, she can't force them to repay workers but it may force them to find another way to continue the cut this year -- perhaps calling it a salary reduction rather than claiming it is a move designed to contribute to their pensions.

Senate President Mike Haridopolos said Monday that if Fulford rules against the state, there would be "chaos" and the state would appeal the ruling immediately.

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.

Rep. Jim Waldman, a Coconut Creek Democrat and a lawyer, said he disagrees with Alexander's assessment. "If she rules in favor of the unions, the Legislature will have to make other plans because they can't count on that 3 percent coming in this year,'' he said. "I do believe they are going to appeal, so it throws it up in the air another six montns to a year."

He said that if Alexander's position were true, the checks and balance system wouldn't work. "If we are not taking out 3 percent, we're a billion dollars short,'' Waldman said. "I don't follow his logic. If you take his argument, the court has no right to determine if what we do is constitutional."