Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Editorials

Don't rush Florida pension decision

Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford wants the state to modernize its retirement plan by closing its pension to future public workers and offering them only a 401(k)-style plan. That has been the trend for more than two decades in the private sector as employers look to shift investment risks onto workers. Weatherford also notes that several states, unlike Florida, are facing budget crises because their public employee pension plans are so underfunded.

But Florida's pension system is in much better shape, and there is no reason to rush to radically change decades of public policy in this state. Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, has triggered a worthwhile debate, but a quick decision could produce unintended consequences that could harm tens of thousands of public employees. Weatherford should take his full two-year term as speaker to make sure any pension reform is the right one for both workers and taxpayers.

The plan, formally unveiled last week before a House subcommittee, would halt new enrollments in the state pension in 2014. New employees hired by the state or at hundreds of local government agencies, including school boards and counties, would be put into a new defined contribution account, similar to a 401(k) account, where workers will decide how to invest their money. Pension plan members hired before 2014 — who number nearly 1 million, including 623,011 current employees of state and local agencies — would not be affected.

The idea was met Thursday with predictable hostility from unions and other workers' representatives. There remains a valid argument that at least some public sector jobs — particularly for teachers and public safety workers — deserve different considerations than private sector ones. The committee vote for approval fell along party lines, with Republicans backing Weatherford. More concerning was the lack of detail about the consequences of such a fundamental change. Not until later this month will the Legislature learn from an actuarial study what the fiscal impact of closing the pension fund will be on government agencies, from the state to counties to school districts.

There remain valid concerns that the proposal has no provisions for providing disability or survivor benefits for employees who are injured or killed in the line of duty. The Legislature has ordered studies to estimate the cost of several options, such as moving those employees' accounts back to a traditional pension-style benefit after the incident. But those studies aren't expected to be completed until March and April. The session is scheduled to end May 3.

Legislators should be aware of the dangers of rushing important legislation without fully understanding its impact. Many of the biggest issues facing the Legislature are the result of poorly drafted laws with unintended consequences: a deeply flawed teacher evaluation scheme, a faulty nuclear cost recovery fee that allows power companies to profit from customers even when they fail, and a "stand your ground'' gun law that benefits criminals as well as law-abiding citizens.

If pension reform is the best plan for Florida taxpayers and its workers, more scrutiny, not less, is the wiser course. The state pension plan is not in any imminent danger, contrary to rhetoric from Gov. Rick Scott and others. In fact, it's one of the best-funded public pension plans in the nation. Good public policy takes time. Florida has time, and Weatherford should use it.

Comments
Editorial: Listen to Marjory Stoneman Douglas students demanding change

Editorial: Listen to Marjory Stoneman Douglas students demanding change

Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are traveling to the state capital today and declaring "never again.íí A prominent Florida Republican fundraiser vows he wonít raise another nickel until his party approves new gun controls. Across F...
Published: 02/19/18

Editorial: No more doubt about Russian meddling in election

The latest indictment by the Justice Department special counsel, Robert Mueller, refutes President Donald Trumpís claims that Russian interference in the 2016 election was a Democratic hoax. The indictment details the lengths Russian conspirators too...
Published: 02/19/18
Editorial: Trumpís rising deficits and misplaced priorities

Editorial: Trumpís rising deficits and misplaced priorities

Itís not popular in Washington or virtually anywhere else these days to express concern about the rising federal deficit. Congressional Republicans who used to be deficit hawks first voted to cut taxes by $1.5 trillion over the next decade, then rais...
Published: 02/17/18
Editorial: Buckhorn should not appeal verdict in firefighterís case

Editorial: Buckhorn should not appeal verdict in firefighterís case

The city of Tampa should have taken Tanja Vidovic seriously from the start when the Tampa firefighter complained about her treatment in the workplace. Now that a jury and judge have spoken, itís time for City Hall to cut its losses, learn from its mi...
Published: 02/15/18
Updated: 02/16/18
Editorial: CareerSource troubles mount as public trust drops

Editorial: CareerSource troubles mount as public trust drops

The dark cloud enveloping Tampa Bayís job placement centers keeps growing. There are accusations of forged documents, evidence of nepotism and concerns about grossly inflated performance numbers that could be tied to receiving more public money and b...
Published: 02/15/18
Updated: 02/16/18
Editorials: Prayers and platitudes after shootings arenít enough

Editorials: Prayers and platitudes after shootings arenít enough

Even before the victims of another mass shooting at another public school were identified, Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, state legislators and members of Congress rushed to South Florida or to social media to offer their thoughts and p...
Published: 02/15/18
Editorial: DCF review should get to the bottom of Hillsborough foster care issues

Editorial: DCF review should get to the bottom of Hillsborough foster care issues

The Florida Department of Children and Families is right to call for a timely and "comprehensive" review of Hillsborough Countyís foster care system. Though the probe is a reaction to a recent case involving a child who was left unattended, the revie...
Published: 02/14/18

A Washington Post editorial: Modernize 911 calling before it becomes an emergency

This Friday marks the 50th anniversary of the first 911 emergency call placed in the United States. Since then, uncounted lives have been saved and people helped. It has been a great accomplishment of government.But even as an estimated 240 million 9...
Published: 02/13/18
Updated: 02/14/18
Editorial: Scott, Cabinet cannot be trusted on felonsí voting rights

Editorial: Scott, Cabinet cannot be trusted on felonsí voting rights

Gov. Rick Scott always has been grudging and imperious about restoring the voting rights of felons, requiring them to wait for years before begging the governor and Cabinet to be recognized again as citizens. That arrogance is on full display in a le...
Published: 02/13/18
Another voice: ĎDreamersí donít know whom to trust on immigration

Another voice: ĎDreamersí donít know whom to trust on immigration

Immigrants brought into this country illegally as children by their parents may be wondering whom to trust. The political theater being played out in Washington hasnít settled the status of either the "Dreamers" or the estimated 11 million other undo...
Published: 02/13/18