"Momentous" ruling on Florida’s pension contribution law

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Written by

Dave Heller

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A judge has overturned a controversial state law that required public employees to contribute three percent of their salaries toward their pensions.

Leon County Judge Jackie Fulford ruled Tuesday the pension contribution broke a contract that the state made with those workers and was unconstitutional.

Fulford ruled the state should immediately stop collecting the three percent contribution from 560,000 public workers in the Florida Retirement System. Florida must also repay workers all the money, along with interest, collected since the new law took effect last July.

That would amount to about $1 billion.

The ruling comes as state lawmakers finalize their budget for next year. It is balanced by using that three percent contribution. The judge’s ruling would put next year’s budget another $1 billion in the red.

However, Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders will appeal the decision. House Speaker Dean Cannon says the ruling has no immediate impact on next year’s budget and lawmakers will pass it on Friday.

Attorney Ron Meyer, who led the lawsuit on behalf of the Florida Education Association, calls it a “momentous” ruling that shows even the governor and Legislature have to follow contracts.

“The employees have a contractual right to their pensions and this court recognized that even if the governor and the Legislature choose not to. This is important. We are a society of laws. This court has said even the powerful have to follow the laws. This was a gamble that the governor and Legislature made last year. They gambled taxpayers’ money that they could balance the budget on the backs of the hard-working public employees of the state. They lost that bet today.”

Attorneys for the state at the court hearing declined to comment on the ruling, but Gov. Rick Scott issued a written statement saying he thinks the decision is “simply wrong.”

He said the ruling refuses to allow Florida to have common-sense reform and is an example of a court substituting its own policy preferences for those of the Legislature.

Florida Education Association President Andy Ford says the teachers union will continue to pursue the lawsuit.

“We wish that the governor and Legislature would listen to what the judge said, take it to heart and just let’s move forward. But if they choose to appeal we’re going all the way.”

First Coast News