Republicans still pissed about pension ruling

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Gov. Rick Scott and Republicans in the Legislature are still unhappy with a judge’s decision to strike down last year’s pension overhaul, with the Senate budget chief declining to rule out defying a court order to repay state employees, reports the News Service of Florida.

Circuit Court Judge Jackie Fulford ruled Tuesday that a new law requiring state employees hired before July 1, 2011, to contribute 3 percent to their retirement fund was unconstitutional and violated a state law that essentially declares the pension plan to be a contract between the Legislature and employees. Fulford said the state should repay the workers the contributions with interest.

But Senate Budget Chairman JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, said Wednesday he didn’t think the judge had the authority to force the Legislature to do so — and left open the possibility that it might not. “This is a very political decision by a very political judge that I think flies in the face of state Supreme Court rulings that clearly affirm the absolute, constitutional authority of the Legislature to make budget decisions,” Alexander said.

Asked if he thought lawmakers should defy the ruling if it were upheld by the Supreme Court, Alexander responded: “I do not believe any court has the authority to dictate how the Legislature spends its money — any court, any executive branch, anybody.”

In a radio interview, Scott expressed wonderment at Fulford’s ruling. “She’s saying this is the law of the land — there’s no way it’s the law of the land,” he said. “The pension fund is dramatically underfunded.” The contributions were used to plug holes in this year’s state budget and are also a part of the spending plan for the next budget year, which begins July 1.

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.