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Could Gov. Scott Be Leaning Toward House Pension Reform Plan?

With session coming close to an end, public employee pension reform in Florida is likely dead. But, if both chambers of the state Legislature do come to an agreement on a pension overhaul bill, which way could the Governor be leaning?

Both the Florida House and Senate have two different proposals that makes changes to Florida’s Retirement System.

The House proposal does away with the state’s defined benefit plan better known as the pension plan for new state employees hired after January 1st of next year. That leaves new hires with only one choice. And, that’s the 401K-style option called the defined contribution plan, or the investment plan, the less popular retirement option for existing employees.

Meanwhile, the Senate’s plan leaves both retirement options open for new employees. And, only defaults new hires into the defined contribution plan, if that new employee doesn’t make a choice. That’s different than how it is today. The current default retirement option is the pension plan.

The idea that a single proposal could go to the Governor’s desk is looking less and less likely with session coming to a close in just days. But, with two competing proposals, Scott has been consistently asked which one he likes better.

“Here’s what I care about. I care about the individuals that are relying on the existing pension plan that they’re going to get their pension. That’s what I focus on every day that they have a pension plan that they can rely on," said Scott.

And, a few days later in March, he was saying the same thing.

“My understanding of what the House and Senate is doing is that they’re not making any changes to the existing pension plan, and it’s very important to me because I want to make sure that if you work for the state or you’re part of the pension plan, you know you’re going to get paid,” said Scott.

Scott never really takes a position on either approach. But, recently Scott appeared to change his tune a bit to sound more like Republicans who favor the House plan.

House Speaker Will Weatherford has never been shy about his chamber’s recently passed pension reform proposal. In fact, he’s made it one of his main priorities since the start of session.

“[There’s] a 19 billion dollar shortfall in our Unfunded Actuarial Liability [UAL]. What we should be scared of is the status quo. If we do nothing, the state of Florida is going to continue to spend money that should be going to education and health care and it’s going to be spent on things like a broken pension system,” said Weatherford.

Meanwhile, Scott voiced a similar opinion with a group of reporters this past Thursday.

“Here’s what I believe about the pension plan. It’s not fully funded today. I think it’s 20-billion dollars I think underfunded. It’s only 87-percent funded. You can’t pay your mortgage with 87-percent. So, my goal is to make sure that everybody knows the risk, make sure that we fix that system overtime, so that everybody has a pension plan they can rely on,” said Scott.

But, the issue is slowly dying this session as the Senate has put its bill on hold for three days straight. It’s also never taken up the House plan that passed last month.

But, Weatherford says even if the House bill never gets called up for a vote in the Senate, this session is not the last we’ll see of pension reform.

“I’ve always been someone who’s tried to persuade based on the policy of the issue. And, if I fail to do that, that doesn’t mean we were wrong, it just means we weren’t right at this time at this stage of session. But, the issue will come back and hopefully, they’ll give us another chance. But, I do hold out hope that with a week to go, there’s plenty of time for that issue to be addressed on the Senate floor and it will save the state $60 billion over the next 30 years,” said Weatherford.

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

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.