Florida TaxWatch & Co. launches new alliance to address state pension reform

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Florida’s leading government watchdog group announces a renewed effort for municipal pension reform with Taxpayers for Sustainable Pensions a collaboration with business advocates and policy groups.

Non-profit Florida TaxWatch joined six other advocacy groups in Tallahassee to announce a combined effort to reform taxpayer-funded government pensions. The coalition’s goal is ensuring the state’s retirement program has sufficient funding for long-term sustainability.

Among options available to Taxpayers for Sustainable Pensions, include local pension reform, legislative, constitutional and local-level solutions.

“Too many Florida cities are facing a bill they cannot pay without reducing public services or increasing taxes,” said Florida TaxWatch Chief Research Officer Robert Weissert in a statement. “As government pensions become more generous, even surpassing pensions given to military retirees, they have plunged Florida’s municipalities into nearly $11 billion in debt that future taxpayers will be forced to pay.”

Weissert warns of “underfunded, unfair and unsustainable pension mandates” that could leave Florida cities vulnerable to debt and possibly bankruptcy.

The failure to pass a municipal pension reform bill in the 2014 Legislative Session inspired the group to form a coalition to focus attention on the massive local liabilities. With more than $10 billion in debt due to excessive benefits levels, Weissert points out that the one-third of all Florida’s municipal pension plans that are less than 70 percent funded.

In addition to Florida TaxWatch, coalition members include:

“Creating fiscally stable state and local governments through modernized and sustainable retirement systems helps avoid a bankrupt future too many state and local governments currently face,” said Florida Chamber of Commerce Director of Infrastructure and Governance Policy Leticia Adams. “Securing public pensions and protecting taxpayers will help avoid the damage that unfunded pension programs can have – broken promises, lost jobs, higher taxes and fees and a diminished economy.”

Associated Industries of Florida CEO Tom Feeney added that long-term financial security and long-term economic growth of pension obligations for local public workers is essential.

“Government pension liabilities are one of the most-significant issues facing our local governments and taxpayers,” said Americans For Prosperity Florida Deputy State Director Abigail MacIver, “yet self-interested parties continue to try and sweep the issue under the rug.”

“Real solutions that can be implemented that will protect taxpayers as well as dedicated government workers,” she added. “The risk we have already accumulated will impact Florida’s families and businesses for generations and our local governments simply cannot afford to ignore the problem anymore.”

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.