Fla. Supreme Court upholds sweeping changes to public employee retirement system

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The Florida Supreme Court in a 4-3 decision has upheld sweeping changes the state made in 2011 to the public employee retirement system, reports Kathleen Haughney of the Sun Sentinel.

The challenge to the law, brought by the statewide teachers’ union and other public employee groups, contended that a change to the law that required employees to contribute 3 percent of their salaries to their pensions was unconstitutional because it violated the right to collective bargaining. A trial court agreed and the case was immediately sent to the Supreme Court.

The ruling allows lawmakers to avoid another $2 billion budget hole next year and state workers will see their salary cuts retained indefinitely. The lawsuit, Scott v. Williams, was filed by the Florida Education Association after lawmakers passed, and Gov. Rick Scott signed, against 623,000 government worker salaries.

Justices Jorge Labarga, Ricky Polston, Barbara Pariente and Charles Canady formed the majority opinion. Justices Fred Lewis, James Perry and Peggy Quince dissented.

Reactions:

Gov. Rick Scott: “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.”

Senate President Don Gaetz: “While I am still in the process of reviewing the Supreme Court’s opinion in its entirety, I commend the Supreme Court for their thoughtful and timely review and appreciate their upholding of the Legislature’s proper role in establishing pension policy and making budgetary decisions on behalf of the people who elect us. … The changes made to the Florida Retirement System reflect the Legislature’s efforts to maintain a sound retirement system for our hard-working state and local government employees as well as the reality that Florida taxpayers can no longer bear the full cost of this benefit. Today’s ruling validates the Legislature’s sound policy judgment that public employees in Florida, like the public-sector employees in the vast majority of other states, should play a role in funding their retirement packages.”

Speaker Will Weatherford: “We are reviewing the Court’s decision as it relates the state’s pension system and what it means for Florida’s fiscal outlook. On the surface, this appears to be a decisive victory for taxpayers. We are pleased the Court has upheld our actions on pension reform.”

Florida Chamber via Twitter: @FlChamber: Congrats to FL Supreme Court for upholding state law on government employee pensions.

Florida Democratic Party’s Scott Arceneaux: “Rick Scott and this Republican controlled legislature are squeezing the middle class while giving tax breaks to the GOP special interests. It’s not fair, it’s not leadership and it’s certainly no way to address our state’s fiscal problems. We are disappointed in today’s ruling.”

Florida Education Association President Andy Ford: “The next elections in 2014 can turn this decision around.”

Florida PBA President John Rivera: “This decision is a disappointment for the employees but we respect the Supreme Court’s decision – we are a nation of laws. Although we had a different perspective on addressing the financial challenges Florida faced, our members remain committed to working with the legislature to resolve these challenging issues.”

Florida TaxWatch’s Dominic Calabro: “I am enthusiastic about today’s ruling, as the majority opinion validates the approach and work product of the Florida TaxWatch Government Cost Savings Task Force, which just today released its latest list of recommendations.”

James Madison Institute’s Dr. Bob McClure: “The long delay of this Florida Supreme Court ruling on pensions had state officials on edge, wondering if an adverse ruling would cause a budget crisis. Fortunately, by a slim 4-3 margin, the Court has allowed Florida to move forward without this particular cloud hanging overhead. Like government employees across the nation, those in the Florida Retirement System will now contribute toward their pensions. That’s good news, but the pension reforms must not stop there.”

Susannah Lindberg Randolph via Facebook: WTF, Barbara Pariente. WTF.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.