Florida Supreme Court upholds Rick Scott's decision for state workers to put three percent of salary into their pensions

Posted by Mitch Perry on Thu, Jan 17, 2013 at 1:55 PM

Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente
  • Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente
One of the biggest pieces of legislation that Gov. Rick Scott and the GOP-led Legislature passed in 2011 was a requirement that all state workers put three percent of their earnings into their pension plan — the first time they've had to do that in 40 years.

But the state's biggest teachers' union, the Florida Education Association, immediately went to court to halt the action from being enforced, contending that the contribution amounted to an involuntary pay cut that couldn't be imposed without collective bargaining. A circuit judge agreed with the teachers, kicking the case up to the Florida Supreme Court.

Thursday morning, the court ruled 4-3 in favor of the governor. The justices who voted in the affirmative were Jorge Labarga, Ricky Polston and Charles Canady. They were joined by justice Barbara Pariente, generally considered in the liberal camp.

That prompted Orlando-area Democratic Party activist Susannah Randolph to write on her Facebook page, "WTF, Barbara Pariente. WTF."

Meanwhile, Republicans were ecstatic. House Speaker Will Weatherford tweeted, "This day just got $2 billion better," followed by the hashtag "#penniesfromheaven."

Weatherford's tweet referred to the fact that if the court had ruled for state workers, the legislature would have to refund approximately $1 billion that employees have since paid to their pension funds, and the $1 billion they'd be owed.

Gov. Scott, who has taken his share of losses in the courts since being elected nearly two-and-a-half years ago, was naturally pleased, "The court's ruling today supports our efforts to lower the cost of living for Florida families. This means even more businesses will locate and grow in our state, which creates even more opportunities for Floridians to live their version of the American dream."

David Hart, Executive Vice President of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, hailed the ruling.

"While supporters of job creation should be encouraged by this ruling, there is still much that needs to be done," said Hart. "The Florida Chamber urges county and local governments across Florida to study the ruling and enact similar legislation that will put public employees' pension plans in line with the private sector. The Florida Chamber urges the Legislature to help secure Florida’s future and continue to fight to ensure that state employees' pension plans remain protected."

Florida was one of only a handful of states that didn't require workers to contribute to their own retirement plan, which the Chamber said "is not sustainable."

Representatives for state workers said that with no recent pay increases, the demand for workers to put money into their pension plans meant they were essentially getting a pay cut.

In a statement, Mike Williams with the Florida AFL-CIO said, "This means that these workers, who have foregone raises for over half a decade, will still be subject to this additional economic hardship and allow Tallahassee politicians to pay for the big business tax loopholes and special interest exemptions that have come to define our state's public policy."

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