TALLAHASSEE — A bill that would stop "double dipping'' public officials from collecting a paycheck and a pension was approved Tuesday by members of the Senate Community Affairs Committee.
But the fight appears far from over as some officials want to keep options open for public employees who retire and want to run for public office.
A bill filed by Sens. Mike Fasano, R-Port Richey, and Don Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, would force anyone who retires after Jan. 1, 2010, to temporarily forgo a pension if they return to work and begin collecting a salary. The provision would apply to all state employees, elected officials and the 900 local governmental agencies that are members of the Florida State Retirement System.
Elected officials would no longer be able to win re-election, "retire'' and take 30 days off before returning to the same job and a new term in office.
More than 9,000 members of the retirement system, including more than 220 elected officials, are collecting pensions and paychecks. Some are collecting two pensions and a paycheck while earning credit toward a third pension. The bill will not affect those who already are double dipping.
Fasano said the growing number of public employees threatens the security of the popular Deferred Retirement Option Program, called DROP, as well as the state pension fund. Many of the double dippers collect not only a salary and a pension but collected a one-time DROP payment that for highly paid employees can range into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Lawmakers created DROP to encourage senior employees to retire, making way for younger, lower-paid employees to move up. But a number of agencies have allowed DROP participants to retire and return to their old jobs, blocking the way for others to be promoted.
With Florida's unemployment at 10 percent and virtually all governmental agencies facing layoffs, Fasano said he thinks enough qualified workers are available to fill jobs without allowing double dippers.
"It's costing taxpayers a fortune,'' Fasano told the Senate. "As we address our budget this year we find we are laying off people and yet we are keeping double dippers.''
The bill drew support from Police Benevolent Association lobbyists who denounced double dipping as "outrageous'' and "morally and ethically wrong.''
Lucy Morgan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (850) 224-7263.