Monday, December 11, 2017
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

Another voice: Privacy in the internet age

How much information about you is on your cellphone? Likely the most intimate details of your life: photographs, internet searches, text and email conversations with friends and colleagues. And though you might not know it, your phone is constantly c...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Editorial: Grand jury could force reforms of juvenile justice system

Editorial: Grand jury could force reforms of juvenile justice system

Confronted with documentation of sanctioned brutality and sexual abuse in Floridaís juvenile detention centers, the reaction from Gov. Rick Scottís administration was defensive and obtuse. So itís welcome news that Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine...
Updated: 8 hours ago

Editorial: U.S. House sides with NRA over stateís rights on concealed weapons permits

With the horror of the mass shootings at a Las Vegas country music concert and a small Texas church still fresh, the U.S. House finally has taken action on guns. But the bill it passed last week wonít make Americans safer from gun violence. It is an ...
Published: 12/07/17
Editorial: Hillsborough cannot afford pay raises for teachers

Editorial: Hillsborough cannot afford pay raises for teachers

There is no satisfaction for anyone in the standoff over pay raises between the Hillsborough County School District and its teachers. Most teachers across the nation already are underpaid, but this district simply cannot afford the raises teachers ex...
Published: 12/07/17
Editorial: Impact of Water Street project extends beyond buildings

Editorial: Impact of Water Street project extends beyond buildings

With a buildout of $3 billion encompassing entire city blocks, itís obvious that Jeff Vinikís plans will change the look and feel of downtown Tampa. But the Tampa Bay Lightning owner unveiled a broader vision last week that reflects how far the impac...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/08/17
Editorial: Make texting while driving a primary offense

Editorial: Make texting while driving a primary offense

It is dangerous and illegal to text while driving in Florida, and police should be able to pull over and ticket those lawbreakers without witnessing another violation first. House Speaker Richard Corcoran has lent his powerful voice to legislation th...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/07/17

Editorial: Outsourcing common sense on St. Petersburg Pier naming rights

St. Petersburg officials predict that selling the naming rights to parts of the new Pier could generate $100,000 in annual revenue. But first the city wants to pay a consultant to tell it how and to whom to sell the rights. Why do city officials need...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/07/17

Another voice: Trumpís risky move

President Donald Trumpís decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israelís capital has a certain amount of common sense on its side. As a practical matter, West Jerusalem has been the seat of Israeli government since 1949, and no conceivable formula for Pa...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/07/17
Editorial: Tampaís MOSI reinvents itself

Editorial: Tampaís MOSI reinvents itself

A tactical retreat and regrouping seems to be paying off for Hillsborough Countyís Museum of Science and Industry. After paring back its operations, the museum posted a small profit over the past year, enabling the attraction to keep its doors open a...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/07/17
Times recommends: McClure for Florida House District 58

Times recommends: McClure for Florida House District 58

Voters in Temple Terrace, Plant City and Thonotosassa have an easy choice in the Dec. 19 special election to replace state Rep. Dan Raulerson, who resigned for health reasons. Republican Lawrence McClure is the only credible candidate.McClure, 30, ow...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/07/17