A Leon County judge has overturned a 2011 law requiring public employees to contribute three percent of their salaries toward their pensions.
Judge Jackie Fulford is also ordering the Florida Retirement System to refund the money collected since July. Legal maneuvering is likely to put the refund on hold, however.
More than 560,000 public employees have been contributing three percent of the salaries toward their pensions since July.
The judge found lawmakers violated a 1974 law that gave workers a fully funded pension as part of their employment contract. The ruling does not affect pension contributions by employees hired after July first.
Ron Meyer of the Florida Education Association, which brought suit against the 2011 law, was ecstatic.
“The court today said that a promise is a promise, a contract is a contract," he said.
Private attorneys were hired by the state and paid nearly $500,000 to defend the new law in court. They refused to comment following the ruling.
Some public employees, like Paul Brewer, said living on three percent less has been painful.
“Close to $2,000 a year is what we lost last year, and anybody in this economy knows what $2,000 can buy," he said. "That’s like your groceries and gas money.”
Lawmakers are labeling the judge an activist, even though she was appointed by a Republican governor.
But Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association, the teachers union that brought the suit, said the ruling sends a message to lawmakers and the governor.
“They have decided in this state over and over again to provide tax relief to big corporations, the people who put contributions into their campaigns, and it needs to stop,” he said.
The ruling isn’t likely to be the last word on the pension contributions. The case is certain to be appealed, and with the final decision coming from Florida’s Supreme Court.
The judge has ordered the state to refund the nearly $900 million it has collected so far. The refund will likely wait, however, until all appeals are finished.