Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Unions try to protect money ahead of pending Florida pension changes

TALLAHASSEE — Unions challenging a law that requires government workers to contribute to their state pension starting today have asked a judge to sequester the money in a separate fund until the lawsuit is resolved.

Ron Meyer, an attorney for the Florida Education Association, told Leon County Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford in arguments Thursday that holding the employee contributions in a type of escrow account would protect the 550,000 people participating in the state retirement system.

A lawyer representing the state said that the contribution — 3 percent of an employee's salary — is better off in the state retirement fund, where it could earn returns of up to 20 percent.

Fulford did not immediately issue a decision, though one is expected quickly since the law goes into effect Friday.

The education association filed suit June 20, charging that the pension reform violates Florida statutes and the state Constitution. The Florida Police Benevolent Association and the SEIU Florida Public Service Union joined the teachers in the lawsuit.

Defendants are Gov. Rick Scott, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Attorney General Pam Bondi, who serve as trustees of the State Board of Administration, which oversees Florida's $134 billion retirement fund.

Their attorney, Blaine Winship, said that the retirement fund could lose $45 million in returns if the employee contributions are held out.

"We are suggesting that the least damage will be done by letting that money go to the SBA," Winship said. "At least the money will have been garnering a good investment return in the meantime."

That money, he said, is necessary to maintain the health of the system and make continuing payouts to retirees.

Florida's pension is about 85 percent funded, making it relatively sound by actuarial standards. But Winship warned that could change if the employee contributions are diverted.

Meyer countered that the $45 million represents only a minuscule fraction of the fund's total assets, so the lost revenue should not affect the state's ability to make payments to retirees.

Winship said that if Fulford has any doubts about the outcome of the suit, she should not allow the "extraordinary remedy" of a temporary injunction.

Case law, he said, shows the Legislature clearly has the right to alter a contract going forward even for current employees.

During three hours of discussion, Fulford repeatedly and forcefully questioned Winship on how the state would pay back employees if the unions prevail.

"Aren't we just guessing that we'll have the money to put in there? What's the source?" she asked.

Winship replied it will be "the state's issue" to determine how to pay back the money if required.

Janet Zink can be reached at or (850) 224-7263.

Unions try to protect money ahead of pending Florida pension changes 06/30/11 [Last modified: Thursday, June 30, 2011 11:01pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Police: Uber driver's gun discharges during fight at Adventure Island in Tampa

    Public Safety

    TAMPA — An Uber driver's gun went off Sunday at Adventure Island during a fight between the driver and two passengers.

  2. Baker cautious on Pride politics


    Rick and Joyce Baker strode down Central Avenue Sunday amid rainbow flags, corporate booths, and blaring music of the St. Pete Pride Festival.

    St. Petersburg mayoral candidate Rick Baker chats Sunday with people at the St. Pete Pride Festival. As mayor, Baker did not sign a Pride parade proclamation, but now he says he would.
  3. Rays' bullpen stars lit up in loss to Orioles

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Saturday it was the soft underbelly of the bullpen that let one get away from the Rays, incurring the wrath of the team's faithful followers, who wondered why the high-leverage guys weren't pitching.

    Rays closer Alex Colome, coming in with the score tied in the ninth, allows three runs in his second straight poor outing.
  4. Lightning among early suitors for defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said he planned to explore free agency for potential needs, which include bolstering his blue line and adding a wing or two.

    Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who can be a free agent Saturday, counts the Lightning among his early suitors.
  5. Senate leaders try to appease members as support for health bill slips


    WASHINGTON — Senate Republican leaders scrambled Sunday to rally support for their health care bill, even as opposition continued to build outside Congress and two Republican senators questioned whether the bill would be approved this week.

    Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill on Thursday, is one of the five Republican senators who announced they cannot support the health care bill as drafted.