TALLAHASSEE — A divided Florida Supreme Court today upheld a revision of the state’s pension system that requires all public employees to contribute 3 percent of their salaries to a pension fund.
The Florida Education Association had sued, arguing that the contribution amounted to an involuntary pay cut that couldn’t be imposed without collective bargaining. A circuit judge agreed with the teachers, sending the case to the state’s highest court.
Justices Jorge Labarga, Ricky Polston, Barbara Pariente and Charles Canady formed the majority opinion. Justices Fred Lewis, James Perry and Peggy Quince dissented.
The Legislature passed the pension bill in 2011. It contained a host of reforms, but the biggest was requiring public employees – for the first time in 40 years – to contribute a portion of their paychecks to the state’s fund. The bill also applies to county and municipal employees, as well as teachers, whose pensions are managed by the state fund.
The ruling prompted a huge sigh of relief in Tallahassee, where legislators had worried that an option upholding the teachers’ position would require lawmakers to refund about $1 billion that employees have paid to the pension fund – and then allocate an equal amount going forward.
“The court’s ruling today supports our efforts to lower the cost of living for Florida families,” Gov.Rick Scott said in a statement. “This means even more businesses will locate and grow in our state, which creates even more opportunities for Floridians to live their version of the American dream.”
House Speaker Will Weatherford said his staff was still reviewing the decision but added, “On the surface, this appears to be a decisive victory for taxpayers. We are pleased the Court has upheld our actions on pension reform.”
But the ruling was a huge blow to public employees who have not seen a pay raise in several years.
“This is disappointing news for those who work to make Florida a better place,” said FEA President Andy Ford in a statement. “Balancing the state budget on the backs of middle-class working families is the wrong approach for legislative leaders and the governor to take. We’re disappointed that the state’s highest court said this approach was legal.
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