House Speaker Retires State Pension Issue For 2015

Mar 17, 2015

Last week, Florida democrats met in the capitol to discuss plans to oppose statewide pension reform, and now they can check it off their to-do list- the idea has been shot down by house leaders.

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One of the biggest items on the agenda for many Florida legislators was state pension reform. At the start of the lawmaking session, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli (R-Merrit Island) spoke about it urgently.

“I’ve also made no secret that state and local pension reform needs to be passed by this legislature,” Crisafulli said. “It’s an issue we cannot afford to ignore.”

This would have been the third year state pension reform was brought to the house. Last week, Rep. Dwayne Taylor (D- Daytona Beach) and House Minority Leader Mark Pafford (D- Palm Beach) held a press meeting in the capitol to declare open season on anything state-pension-related.

“I think we have a very healthy system,” said Taylor. “You know, you keep hearing the talk about reform, but I just don’t think that any reform is needed right now.”

Pafford offered a similar sentiment. “We’re about ready to see some new revenue numbers that would demonstrate that the FRS program, if you will, the pension, is gonna be fine relatively soon.”

Taylor and Pafford say the logic behind reforming state pensions is faulty, while supporters have claimed it would cost the state $500 million a year to support the current pension system. The idea is based off an assumption that all eligible retirees left at the same time- a scenario considered unlikely.

Crisafulli is now saying that he’s dropping statewide pension reform from the agenda.

The reason: a recent study of the Florida retirement system shows closing pensions would cost the state more money. Crisafulli had promoted shifting workers into a 401K-style investment plan.

FSU political scientist Carol Weissert, who has been monitoring this issue closely, says the motive to drop it is simple.

“This is really a long-term issue,” Weissert said, “and I think maybe it’ll come back in future sessions, but I’m just guessing that they’ve just decided there are a number of other pressing issues, and this one is not.”

But that doesn’t mean all pensions are a non-issue. Weissert says that, unlike the exaggerations surrounding state pensions, the issues surrounding municipal or local pensions, which go to cops and firefighters, have more support for changes:

“The LeRoy Collins Institute, which I head, has done a number of studies on this, and we have quantified that there are a number of municipal pensions that are not being funded adequately. They have a lot more liabilities than they do assets,” Weissert said.

There’s still work to be done, but even so, in comparison to other states, Florida’s pension program is pretty darn good, according to Weissert.

“We’re the envy of many states,” Weissert said. “Talk to California or Illinois or quite a number of other states that have tremendous problems. Our state is very well run, and as I said, it’s kind of the poster child for how to do it right.”

But, given state pension reform has become an annual legislative issue, it could come back up. Crisafulli says he wants to dive deeper into the numbers before deciding how to move forward.