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Cities hope campaign will stymie pension bill

Cities across the state are mounting a last-ditch effort to kill a bill that would improve pension benefits for hundreds of police officers and firefighters.

On Monday, a television ad started airing in Tallahassee likening the legislation to picking the pockets of taxpayers, warning that it will cost Florida cities an extra $50-million. The House already has passed the bill, and the Florida League of Cities is hoping the $10,000 ad campaign can dissuade the Senate from doing the same.

The bill would establish minimum pension standards for cities that receive state funds to help pay pension costs. It also would prevent cities from assigning injured emergency workers to less strenuous jobs; the workers automatically would retire on disability.

Dominic Calabro, president of Florida TaxWatch, attacked the bill Monday, saying it removes local control over already "generous" pension plans. Emergency workers under those pension plans already retire on disability at twice the rate of other public employees, he said.

"The police and fire unions are trying to get around the collective bargaining process," Pembroke Pines Mayor Alex Fekete said. He estimates the bill would cost his city an extra $250,000.

In the Tampa Bay area, St. Petersburg estimates the extra cost at $2-million, Largo puts it at $700,000 and Tampa at $500,000.

Union leaders dispute the objections, noting that cities do not have to meet the requirements. The standards apply only to cities that receive state funding for their pension plans.

"There really needs to be minimum standard across-the-board," said Jack Soule of the Pinellas Police Benevolent Association.

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