Pension Feud

A hearing on the state pension lawsuit set for Friday was cancelled. Monday makes four months since a judge heard a challenge to the state requirement that employees contribute three percent of their salaries to their pensions. After the requirement took effect in July, employees called it an illegal pay cut, and took the case to court.

From heavy equipment operators to teachers to firefighters, more than a half million public servants have paid more than 800 million dollars toward their pensions this year. The required three percent levy began in July and has been in court ever since.

The sticking point is a 1974 law that says a fully paid pension is a contract. Back in October, employees argued the state could only change the contract for new employees

Ron Meyer is with the Florida Education Association. “We have a contract that the legislature made and the legislature now can’t simply get out of.”

A private law firm hired by the state has been paid almost a half-million dollars so far to handle the case. They told a skeptical judge the state could make any change, anytime it wanted.

Doug Hinson is an Attorney for the state. “The legislature does not have to go back to the bargaining table when it is deciding funding issues.”

After paying the three percent for almost a year, disgruntled employees came to the Capitol this past week. Heavy equipment operator Keith Dibell says the three percent contribution is another word for a pay cut. “If I was making 6 digits, I suppose it wouldn’t be so bad. But I’m not.”

Reporter: How much are you making?

“Do you really want to know? 27,000 a year.”

State lawmakers and the Governor originally sought to take five percent from employees, but they compromised after an outcry.

If the new pension contribution law is found to be unconstitutional, the state would have to pay back all the money it has collected from state workers. Friday the House Speaker said he doesn’t expect the state to lose the case, but if it does, the refund money would be available.

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