Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Pension reform championed by conservatives running into trouble

TALLAHASSEE — Few issues would seem to score higher among conservatives than public pension reform.

Shrinking the defined benefits that public employees receive and steering them into private retirement plans has long been championed by groups such as the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the James Madison Institute and Americans for Prosperity, founded by billionaire libertarians David and Charles Koch.

But as Tuesday's Florida Senate Appropriations Committee meeting showed, pension reform is hardly a conservative litmus test. A bill that would make significant changes to the state's $135 billion pension system barely survived by a narrow 10-8 vote, with three Republicans joining Democrats in opposition.

"One of the things that concerns me is the continued effort to change the Florida retirement system," said Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who voted against the measure. "I'm tired of scaring our (state and school) employees every year, and hammering at them, and threatening the one thing they have."

Latvala, like senators such as Greg Evers of Baker and Charlie Dean of Inverness, possesses staunch conservative bona fides and also represents many government workers who depend on the pension for retirement.

These legislators consistently side with constituents who claim that the defined-benefit pension system should be left alone.

But that view collides with the ambitions of Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel. In his two years as the leader of the lower chamber, Weatherford has made pension reform a priority, playing to a conservative base that believes the pension system eventually will bankrupt the state.

Last year, the Senate defeated a much more radical overhaul of the system in a 22-18 vote. This year, as Weatherford's influence as outgoing speaker wanes, senators have seemed even less receptive, with Evers declaring last month that it would snow in Miami before reform passed.

In fact, it was a Democrat, Sen. Jeremy Ring of Margate, who saved SB 1114 on Tuesday, only because he wanted to keep alive his municipal pension bill.

For four years, Ring has worked on that measure, aimed at averting what he says is a more serious financial crisis than anything facing the state's pension system. It passed Senate Appropriations 16-0 on April 10.

But on Easter Sunday, Weatherford merged his chamber's versions of the state and municipal pension measures, a maneuver to revive his own efforts.

So if Ring had voted against the Senate bill Tuesday, he also would kill his bill in the House.

"I'm not ready, with a week and a half left in session, to kill my local bill," Ring said, but added he still might vote against the state pension bill.

The last-minute maneuverings were dumped on senators in the form of a 53-page amendment filed Monday.

"It's disrespectful," said Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, who voted no on the measure. "Leadership's emergencies aren't our problems. Nobody knows really what's in this bill, and this forces us to vote on it. We're now giving new life to a dead issue."

Lee said Gov. Rick Scott, who faces re-election in November, told senators last month he didn't want major changes to the pension system.

"He was very concerned with the magnitude of the proposed changes," Lee said.

A Scott spokesman, John Tupps, wouldn't confirm the governor's position.

Michael Van Sickler can be reached at

Pension reform championed by conservatives running into trouble 04/22/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 22, 2014 10:06pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. In advertising, marketing diversity needs a boost in Tampa Bay, nationally


    TAMPA — Trimeka Benjamin was focused on a career in broadcast journalism when she entered Bethune-Cookman University.

    From left, Swim Digital marketing owner Trimeka Benjamin discusses the broad lack of diversity in advertising and marketing with 22 Squared copywriter Luke Sokolewicz, University of Tampa advertising/PR professor Jennifer Whelihan, Rumbo creative director George Zwierko and Nancy Vaughn of the White Book Agency. The group recently met at The Bunker in Ybor City.
  2. Kushner to testify before two intelligence committees


    WASHINGTON— President Donald Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner is set to make a second appearance on Capitol Hill — he will speak with the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, one day after he is scheduled to speak with Senate Intelligence Committee investigators behind closed doors.

    White House senior adviser Jared Kushner is scheduled to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee and the House Intelligence Committee. [Associated Press]
  3. Rays blow lead in ninth, lose in 10 to Rangers (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Rays manager Kevin Cash liked the way Alex Cobb was competing Friday night. He liked the way the hard contact made by the Rangers batters went away after the second or third inning. So as the game headed toward the ninth, there was no doubt in Cash's mind that sending Cobb back to the mound was …

    Rays starter Alex Cobb can hardly believe what just happened as he leaves the game in the ninth after allowing a leadoff double then a tying two-run homer to the Rangers’ Shin-Soo Choo.
  4. Exhumation of Dalí's remains finds his mustache still intact


    FIGUERES, Spain — Forensic experts in Spain have removed hair, nails and two long bones from Salvador Dalí's embalmed remains to aid a court-ordered paternity test that may enable a woman who says she is the surrealist artist's daughter to claim part of Dalí's vast estate.

    Salvador Dal? died in 1989 leaving vast estate.
  5. Sessions discussed Trump campaign-related matters with Russian ambassador, U.S. intelligence intercepts show


    WASHINGTON — Russia's ambassador to Washington told his superiors in Moscow that he discussed campaign-related matters, including policy issues important to Moscow, with Jeff Sessions during the 2016 presidential race, contrary to public assertions by the embattled attorney general, current and former U.S. …

    Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation after meetings with an ambassador were revealed.