Local pensions are a ticking time bomb in the state. While funding remains undercut and overdue, lawmakers are working to pass a bill that will finally redress the issue.
Over 60 percent of local pensions are underfunded in the state. For nearly a decade now, lawmakers have been working to address the issue with little advancement.
But Wednesday, a bipartisan proposal to reform Florida’s local pension program saw progress on the Senate floor.
Sen. Jeremy Ring says his bill corrects a law passed in 1999 that used tax dollars paid by citizens to fund local police and firefighter retirement pensions.
“I wish you could all have been in our meetings with fire and police over the years, especially this year… to see how far they have given,” says Ring. “Because they knew that 1999 law was a gift to them that was hurting the cities and ultimately hurting the tax payers, so I want to give tremendous gratitude and thanks to them.”
Ring says though the state received support from local unions, there were some groups that were disingenuous in the process: mainly, the cities.
“There were groups that came out in opposition of a bill that never read the bill and they held consortiums without including the unions and I have a problem with that,” Ring said. “I have a problem with the way some of the cities, not all some of them are wonderful… but the way some of the cities came to the state year after year for bail outs and that all they wanted was a bail out.”
Ring's plan let’s governments use some insurance premium tax dollars to pay for both minimum benefits and additional ones as negotiated through collective bargaining. But as pensions have grown increasingly unstable, it hasn’t made sense that those dollars continue to fund only the extra benefits.
The city of Naples has been at the heart of the debate. A state interpretation, called the “Naples Letter” has allowed some cities to use the tax money to cover benefits, says Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples.
“They seem to think that there’s not an acknowledgement at all,” says Richter. “The premium tax revenue allocated to the local fire and police retirements benefits does not even cover the cost of the minimum benefits or the multiplier and they’re concerned this will raise the minimum benefit requirement.”
But Ring says premium tax revenues were never intended to fully fund minimum benefits for state workers.
The measure passed 36-o in the Senate Wednesday and is up next for review by the house.
*Correction: Story has been changed to reflect that Sen. Jeremy Ring, not Sen. Rob Bradley, is the sponosor the pension bill and is the person who addressed the bill on the senate floor.