Gaetz and Weatherford vow to push pension overall againby John Kennedy | January 29th, 2014
The Legislature’s top Republican leaders said Wednesday they are committed to making sweeping changes to the state’s pension plan — but are proposing a more nuanced approach than tried earlier.
The move comes even as Gov. Rick Scott, in his $74.2 billion budget proposal, did not renew his previous call for revamping the Florida Retirement System.
House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said changes are still needed to the plan used by more than 600,000 teachers, police, firefighters and other public employees.
“We have to protect ourselves from the future,” Weatherford said Wednesday at the Associated Press’ annual planning session at the state Capitol.
Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, joined Weatherford in saying that the Republican-led Legislature will work toward enacting changes that would shifting new workers joining the statewide pension system into a so-called cash balance pension plan. Both the state and the employee would contribute to the account and some level of retirement benefits would be guaranteed.
Police employees, firefighters and other emergency responders would be exempt from the change, under the Weather and Gaetz concept floated Wednesday. That could blunt some of the toughest opposition that has derailed earlier efforts to rework the FRS.
Lawmakers are worried about the rising cost of the plan, which costs the state more than $500 million a year to finance.
A cash balance approach is being advanced by Republican leaders and is portrayed as a “hybrid” plan. It would meld the best qualities of the state’s traditional pension, which provides set benefits based on salary and years of service, and a 401(k) styled investment plan, also offered within the Florida Retirement System, but subject to stock market volatility.
The Republican-led House last year pushed to force all new hires into the investment plan. But most Republicans in the Senate refused to go along, while union-allied Democrats opposed the concept in both chambers.