Weatherford’s pension wish fails in Senateby John Kennedy | April 30th, 2013
The Senate defeated one of House Speaker Will Weatherford’s top priorities of the session Tuesday, refusing to go along with a dramatic overhaul of the Florida Retirement System.
The 22-18 vote followed emotional speeches by several senators — including Sen. Jack Latvala, who fought back tears as he recalled a pair of state firefighters killed two years ago while battling a wildfire.
The Clearwater Republican said the men earned $26,000-a-year for the jobs that cost their lives.
Latvala said the House’s pension proposal not only diminished the service of state workers, it threatened the retirement plans of the teachers, police, firefighters and other government employees in the plan.
“We’re talking about 623,000 Florida lives,” Latvala said. “That’s who’s in this retirement system today.”
Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, had proposed a Senate plan that included incentives for employees who chose to join the FRS’s 401(k)-style investment plan instead of its traditional pension plan.
But on Tuesday, Simpson sought to replace his approach with one favored by the House, which closed the traditional pension plan to new employees. To soften the impact, Simpson’s proposal wouldn’t take effect until January 2015, giving the state time to consider steps the improve the investment plan.
Simpson said his revised proposal would be good for younger workers — many of whom don’t work for governments long enough to qualify for the conventional pension. Shifting more workers into an investment plan also would ease the state’s pension costs, freeing more dollars for lawmakers to pump into education, health care and other programs, Simpson said.
“The more we have to put into a defined benefit plan now, the less we can do…in what our priorities are,” Simpson said.
But a majority of the Senate was clearly wary.
“This is kind of unconscionable. It’s not the right thing to do,” said Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Miami Beach.
After the vote, Simpson said the House-Senate struggle over revamping the Florida Retirement System had ended. No changes will be made this spring.
“It’s dead. It’s over,” Simpson concluded.