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Memo to Florida Legislature: Quit Bashing Public-Employee Pensions

| February 20, 2014

Will Weatherford doesn't like public employee pensions. (Facebook)

Will Weatherford doesn’t like public employee pensions. (Facebook)

By Daniel Tilson

A determined cohort of elected officials in our Legislature is trying to turn working and retired people against each other, to better the odds of a dangerous bill becoming destructive law.

As reported in The Florida Current, the Senate Community Affairs Committee Tuesday passed a bill by a 5-4 vote that was filed Wednesday as SB 1114: Florida Retirement System.

If ever there were a legislative wolf disguised in sheep’s clothing of “fiscal responsibility,” this would be that perpetually hungry beast.

Just like last year, House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz are leading the Republican charge to put future public employees’ pensions and Florida’s economic stability at serious, undue risk.

A 2013 bill seeking to “fix” demonstrably and still unbroken Florida Retirement System (FRS) went down to bipartisan defeat in the Senate. So now they’ve got a “new and improved” 2014 version.

The big stick remains the requirement that future retirees be forced into a risky 401(k)-type “defined contribution” plan, rather than joining current FRS members in a far more stable “defined benefit” plan.

The new carrot presumably added to soften the blow of the big stick is still a defined contribution plan, but a “cash balance” one with lump sum payout and guaranteed annual interest of 2 percent.

Oh yes. If an employee’s annual interest exceeds 2 percent, the state gets to keep 25 percent.

There’s a “defined contribution” for you, huh?

But not nearly as bad as the 3 percent pay cut – uh, “pension contribution” – Gov. Rick Scott and Republican legislators forced on public employees a few years ago.

I’ll never forget working on a video for the Florida Public Employees Partnership when that happened. The pain and fear were palpable in school bus drivers, cafeteria workers, corrections officers, health care workers and so many others I interviewed, all worrying how their families would get by, on less.

context floridaNow we have the 2014 spectacle of Republican legislators trying to exempt police, firefighters and other first responders from the impact of their new “reform” bill, shamefully cherry-picking winners and losers, trying to pit worker vs. worker.

We have the spectacle of well-to-do businessmen/politicians like Weatherford trying to turn private sector working families against public employees, suggesting the state’s long-standing legal obligation to make up shortfalls in FRS funding is money that could and should be spent on education.

That’s so wrong on so many levels; it’ll take another whole column to do justice to such malicious malarkey.

For now, know this. Any attempt to force public employees from a defined benefit plan into any defined contribution plan is bad, unnecessary public policy.


The only ones to benefit would be private special interests —  like investment firms — and politicians in cahoots with them.

Studies show such initiatives would:

·      Cost the state and taxpayers more.

·      Put future employees’ pensions (currently averaging only $18,000) at risk of depletion and disappearance before death, forcing many onto taxpayer-funded public assistance.

·      Weaken local and state economies by taking billions in spending power away from retired public employees.

Forget the rare, blown-out-of-proportion news story about some public employee retiring with a big pension. It’s the extreme exception.

We’re talking here about people who work tirelessly to help our families get through every day safe and sound.

We’re talking about family members, friends and neighbors who so often take less pay than they could get in the private sector, because they care about public service — and because in exchange for that service and sacrifice, they can count on a secure retirement some day.

Do not let them down.

A New York University graduate, Daniel Tilson owns a Boca Raton-based firm, Full Cup Media, offering “a la carte” and custom-bundled packages of communication services.

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18 Responses for “Memo to Florida Legislature: Quit Bashing Public-Employee Pensions”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Will our State Legislators become part of the new and improved 401(k) plan or are they, by any chance, thinking of exempting themselves, as well as first responders? Whatever risks they ask other public sector employees to take, I think THEY should be willing to take, in full measure.

  2. Palmcoastconcernedcitizen says:

    The city of palm coast will be jumping on this band wagon as they do not care about their employees. Offering low wages and no livable retirement. Except for the City Manager who gets 25% of his wages into a different retirement than the employees 10%.

    • Just a thought says:

      Palm Coast is already in the defined contribution plan. Only some long-term firefighters are still in the state system.

  3. confidential says:

    November 2014 lets get all these feudal GOP lords like Gaetz, Weatherford along their buddies incumbents in the house and senate out!
    The forty percent that stays home in every election in our country other than going to the ballot box better get out and vote, if they want to recover their jobs and have their retirement funds available when their bodies can no longer sustain their hard labor endured their whole lives. If they want our education dollars contributed to be used for our public schools other than to enrich private entities, if they want women, minorities, gays, immigrants, elderlies and workers rights to stand, then get out and vote! The current extreme conservative lies, propaganda, innuendos and total disrespect for our all and Commander in Chief elected by the majority of Americans is proof of worst things coming to us, if we do not remove the tea baggers vermin in the congress and senate now. Register and get out and vote in droves we can all do it!

  4. Mike says:

    Wow…seriously amazing how disrespectful we are to public workers. The pension format is already chicken feed, so let’s make it worse by changing the formula! Small wonder why people are leaving the state in mass…

  5. rhweir says:

    Those pensions are so inadequate already and state workers are paid so poorly that the state should just contract out most state jobs. A lot of those jobs, especially the grunt work done by some DCF employees could be and should be contracted out. The citizens of Florida get what they pay for and it’s not good.

  6. confidential says:

    Regarding Florida incumbents alike Ron DeSantis and their campaign mails received as follows;
    Promises Promises Made, Promises Kept:
    You declined your congressional perks & pension because your wealth allows (your residence in trendy Pontevedra is proof).Your mentioned blue collar past is just a wolf lamb skin disguise.
    You supported constitutional amendment to reduce term limits in congress another bluff that you know maybe will never pass but looks like a good campaign incumbent cartel.
    Promised and voted to cut federal spending, in all the wrong places and our much delayed recovery from the current depression and the high unemployment proves it.
    Holding the Washington Ruling Class Accountable:
    Successfully passed bill to block pay increases for congress,(forgot senate) and the executive and their personnel sounds and looks pretty…but did materialize?
    Co-authored de 28th amendment for Congress (forgot Senate) to be subject to the same laws they impose on us…also sounds and looks pretty …materialized? Doubt it.
    Authored legislation to force members of Congress to live under Obamacare…forgot to include Senate.
    Supported enactment of No Budget No Pay for senate if they do not pass a budget…The senate pass the budget but your tea baggers supporters in the Senate and Congress opposed it.
    Holding Barack Obama and his Administration Accountable:
    Co-sponsored bills to repeal, defund and delay Obamacare? Maybe then we will repeal your re-election.
    Voted to prohibit the IRS from having access to the HC information of the American people. You have no common sense there, imagine the IRS not acessing to know at least which of us has or not Medicare,etc..
    Demanded the resignation of Eric Holder….How come you did not demand the resignation of VP Chenney when he manipulated (being the former head of Halliburton) to give Halliburton a NON BID supplier contract for the war in Iraq that Bush and Chenney also started based on lies?
    Supported oversight investigations on the 9/11/2012 in Benghazzi…Why didn’t you investigate the 9/11/2001 attacks then and the fraud committed against us all, funding a until now over 10 years useless billionaires wars that we couldn’t afford and the Halliburton no bid contract and then Bush- Chenney lies used to drive us into those useless wars, so costly in so many of our young brave ones lives?
    Because all my replies above, is that I will NOT vote for you Mr. Ron DeSantis.
    You have wasted you first term, as your campaign pamphlet reads, addressing mostly Federal issues with a sole pathetic goal of dooming the current administration that to your demise, was elected twice. Looks like you never learned from your peer Mitch McConnell when he embarked all his tea baggers in DC to make POTUS Obama, a one term President and as soon as he was elected. Now McConnell’s re-election is doubtful.
    You wasted your first term addressing the wrong issues. At local level for why you were elected just helping pass legislation against our workers and their unemployment insurance denials and their pensions cuts and unions busted. Your cuts generating more unemployed while reducing the very services we pay upfront in our taxes and are those services provided by our government workers the only ones that really serve us! You also work to defeat the only Health Insurance that for the first time millions of Americans can afford. Besides that what did you achieved positive for your district residents that will justified your re-election…? Nothing!

  7. Joseph Pulitzer says:

    Question, How many of these public employees voted Republican in the last election?

  8. rickg says:

    Let me guess both Weatherford and Gaetz were members of the lucky sperm club and wouldn’t need a pension after their service… One of the reasons why dedicated public servants work for the state, county or municipality was the pension. Now we’ll get even more disinterested employees working for the government. 401ks = mucho dollars for Wall Street and evidently not much return for the working public

    • Pogo says:

      Weatherford was spawned in Texas, moved to Floriduh as a tadpole, and married and brown-nosed the rest of the way. Most of these smug little GOP pri@ks have mooch in common. The GOP has always been the club of the selfish, and master of using the dark side of human nature to trick the stupid into shooting at their own shadow and/or reflection. And so it goes.

  9. I/M/O says:

    For a public employee pension system to work it has to be defined by Tiers (Age groups) and employees must be mandated to pay a certain percentage of their paycheck each payday into the retirement fund. The employer then needs to pay their share each year into the fund. Not a promise to pay someday but it has to be paid every year by the public worker employer. When a Tier becomes to large a group cohort a new Tier is set up for recently hired employees.

    Public employee pension should always be controlled at the State level. State Police Retirement fund, Fire fighters Retirement Fund, Teachers Retirement Fund etc. Smaller groups of public employees are then added together in a Retirement Fund. That way the State has to guarantee the pension funds and the state becomes the watchdog that municipalities are paying their share on time and in full.

    Each Tier needs to be so financially solvent that when the last member of that Tier dies there is still money remaining in that Tier. The money left over is then returned to the taxpayers of that municipality or State.

    The funds need to be properly invested and whoever is controlling those funds needs to report to each and every member of the fund what the return on that investment is each and every year. The reason the money is invested as a group and individuals do not choose their investments is that larger volumes of money can demand higher interest rates or the money can be invested in safe growth stocks and bonds.

    You then add to the equation that both employer and labor have an equal number of votes as to ever removing any money from the retirement system for any other reason. If the vote is a tie between labor and employer the money does not get spent. That protects the workers.

    So called “Free Pensions” for public employees where only the employer pays into the fund ALWAYS GO BANKRUPT usually because the legislators keep postponing the payments into the fund into later years. (See California)

    Palmcoastconcernedcitizen:
    Doesn’t an employee know that before they accept the job?

    Confidential, Excuse me but the reason being in a 401 is so very dangerous right now is that the progressives have already proposed plans for the federal government to confiscate all the money that is currently in 401 plans and replace it with federal treasury bonds with an individual’s interest rate on your funds locked in at 3%.

    There would be no opting out of the federal treasury bond retirement program if you were previously in a 401 plan. You would be stuck in this progressive retirement treasury bond program for the rest of your life no matter how many times you change jobs.

    In a nutshell the progressives want to confiscate people’s money and nationalize everyone’s retirement plan.

    Well we all know what happened to the Social Security Trust Fund money. 17 trillion dollars was “Borrowed” by the federal government and replaced with IOU Treasury Bonds.

    • Pogo says:

      Word salad. An expert expounds without providing the basis of anything stated.

      “…In a nutshell the progressives want to confiscate people’s money and nationalize everyone’s retirement plan.

      Well we all know what happened to the Social Security Trust Fund money. 17 trillion dollars was “Borrowed” by the federal government and replaced with IOU Treasury Bonds.”

      And who is we all? How about reminding everyone about how “the progressives” and St. Reagan got where they went.

      Daze like these – you gotta love em.

  10. confidential says:

    These are the negative results that conservative lies generate among our workers: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/20/vw-union-workers_n_4820585.html?utm_hp_ref=mostpopular

  11. Chris Storace says:

    I understand how many people are posting here and reacting to this news out of fear and uncertainty, but I have to point out that it’s also ignorance. You’ve been fed this crappy pension system for so long that you believe it’s the best option you have and it’s not. Don’t take my word for it. Teachers, go educate yourselves. Go to the MyFRS.com and read the handbook. Call FRS and ask them for a pension quote then read the document thoroughly. Once you’ve done that, compare it to what’s being offered and decide yourself. 98% of the people who are upset about these proposed changes have never read the material themselves. How can you have an opinion on something none of you understand? Asking your friends doesn’t help because they don’t actually read the material either. An educated opinion is the only one worth having. Go get one before you judge. If you do, you’ll realize how awful this pension system is, not just for the taxpayer, but for YOU! Here are some highlights. 1. Portability. You’ve worked all these years for your retirement and when you die where does that money go? At best it goes to your spouse but not without giving up a big chunk of your monthly benefit. What about your kids? You can’t give it to them. 2. Cost of living increases. The pension has a COLA increase, but it doesn’t meet with the rising cost of inflation and the result is that your monthly check decreases in value over time. The $5,000 a month you get today will only be worth $2,500 in about 10 years. What will you do then? Don’t be sheep. Don’t take the word of anyone else. Research the numbers for yourselves. It’s all there if you’re willing to take the time to read and understand it. But you won’t. Because you’re lazy.

  12. A.S.F. says:

    I think aged Tea Baggers and Neo-Conservatives who have reached and passed retirement age should recuse themselves from their judgements and actions regarding OTHER people’s retirement plans, especially if they are receiving pensions themselves. “Do as I say and not as I do” is not an attractive rallying cry to anyone but other like-minded selfish individuals.

    • Pogo says:

      Amen.

      The “who is John Galt?” believers have had quite a lot to say.

      Okay.

      And now:

      “…Who Is John Arnold?

      According to CNN/Money, John Arnold is “the second-youngest self-made multibillionaire in the United States.” Only Mark Zuckerberg is younger and richer – but that’s not the only difference
      between the two. Whereas Zuckerberg made his fortune building a brand-new social media technology, Arnold made his the old fashioned way: through the kind of financial speculation that destroys economies, harms taxpayers and wrecks public pension funds.

      Arnold began amassing his fortune as an energy commodities speculator at Enron at the time the company’s trading schemes first caused rolling blackouts across the country and then cratered the national economy…”

      Read the entire source of the above quote here:

      http://ourfuture.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Plot-Against-Pensions-final.pdf

  13. Tater says:

    Leave my employer offered FRS Special Risk retirement alone, oh sorry, minus the 3% that gets deducted from my paycheck that the GOV. says I have to contribute to my retirement, plus the 2% federal tax holiday that expired = 5%. Hard to make up when you don’t get good pay raises for many years. I guess i should not complain still have job for now.

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