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Pension Lawsuit Now In The Hands Of Florida Supreme Court

Updated 01/18/13:

The Florida Supreme Court on a 4-3 vote agreed with the state to overturn the appellate court's ruling Thursday. The high court upheld the law requiring public employees contribute 3-percent of their pay toward their retirement plans--a big win for the Governor Rick Scott and the Republican-led Legislature, who say had the 2011 law been struck down, there would have been a big budget gap to fill.

Stay tuned to Friday's Capital Report to hear more on this story and how it applies to potential employee raises.



The Florida Supreme Court heard oral arguments Friday to decide whether state employees should contribute three-percent of their pay toward their pension. A Leon Circuit Court Judge had previously ruled in favor of the employees who brought the lawsuit, calling the change unconstitutional. But, the state is now asking Florida Supreme Court Justices to overturn the appellate court ruling.

During oral arguments, some Justices seemed to have already made up their minds, when lawyer for the employee unions Ron Meyer made his case. While he argued in support of the lower court ruling that said forcing public employees to pay the three-percent contribution is unconstitutional, Supreme Court Justice Charles Canady did not appear to agree:

“Based on the decisions that were made in respect to this, and the whole state budget will be thrown out of balance, thrown into chaos, if we recede from that decision,” said Canady.

“Now, your honor, you’re making assumptions that were never part of the case here. There’s no record evidence of that," replied Meyer.  "At best, the record evidence shows there was a budgetary shortfall and the Legislature decided to make it up on the backs of employees.”

The unions also claims the state violated their collective bargaining rights by allowing the Legislature in 2011 to make the change without consulting the unions. But, while answering questions by Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente, former Supreme Court Justice Raoul Cantero disagreed. He was arguing on behalf of the state.

“I guess I’m just trying to understand, if the state can just eliminate the retirement plan, it’s not much of a bargaining position,” remarked Pariente.

“Well, Your honor, the constitution does not guarantee success. It guarantees the right to collectively bargaining,” Cantero replied.

After arguments were over, Governor Rick Scott released a statement, saying the case is about the efforts of him and the Legislature in 2011 to maintain a responsible and sustainable budget for Florida.  If the high court upholds the lower court ruling, it could cost the state $2 billion.

Five unions, led by the Florida Education Association, along with 23 employees filed the lawsuit, Rick Scott v. George Williams.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on twitter @SaschaCordner.