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Sen. Jeremy Ring’

Senate approves local pension overhaul facing uncertain future in House

Monday, April 28th, 2014 by John Kennedy

The Florida Senate set itself on a collision course Monday by approving a proposal overhauling local police and fire pensions but ignoring a more sweeping plan that cleared the House last week.

The Senate approach (CS/SB 246) give cities a chance to use the state’s insurance premium tax to bolster police and fire pension funds.

With the support of police and fire unions, the bill relaxes a 1999 law that required cities to offer only new benefits with these tax dollars, a move that analysts say has contributed to many funds now becoming financially troubled.

“This is one of the great crises facing Florida,” said Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, who has been working four years on trying to forge a consensus on local pensions.

The House, however, has merged a similar pension bill with a larger change to the Florida Retirement System. The FRS rewrite has little support in the Senate, and the House tactic is clearly aimed at trying to muscle senators into accepting it if they want to repair local pensions.

Ring acknowledged that in the session’s closing week, it’s difficult to predict the local pension bill’s fate. But he said it is poised to improve retirement accounts across Florida.

“If and when this bill passes, we won’t be involved in local pensions again,” Ring assured senators.

The Leroy Collins Institute at Florida State University has studied the state’ municipal pensions, sounding alarms about the financial health of many plans.

Those drawing low marks in the 2011 review, included Boynton Beach’s police plan and Palm Beach Gardens’ police and fire plans – while West Palm Beach’s police pension was named among the best-funded in the state.

The study concluded that the municipal pension slide began in the early 2000s, well before the recession. The timing is close to when Gov. Jeb Bush and the Republican-led Legislature approved changes which improved city police and fire pensions.

The law was effectively a payback for unions which endorsed Bush over Democrat Buddy MacKay in the 1998 governor’s race.

Ring wants to give some donors something they cherish — anonymity

Monday, December 5th, 2011 by John Kennedy

One of Florida’s wealthiest lawmakers again has legislation that would carve a new public records exemption into state law for donors to taxpayer-financed performing arts center.

Margate Democratic Sen. Jeremy Ring’s legislation (SB 570) sailed Monday through the Senate’s Community Affairs Committee on a 7-0 vote. Ring said the measure has been promoted by the Broward County Performing Arts Center, whose leaders have told him that the idea of going public with a sizable gift has discouraged some prospective donors — who demand anonymity.

Ring has reported a $17.9 million net worth, making him the second-wealthiest member of the Florida Senate. He made a fortune as an executive with Yahoo, the Internet company.

Ring said he’s sponsored the public records exemption for several years — but has never managed to get it through both chambers of the Legislature and the governor. Former Gov. Charlie Crist, who was honored by the media-backed First Amendment Foundation for his service to the cause of open government, vetoed the measure one year, Ring said.

Legislation approved during Crist’s term also requires two-thirds approval of the House and Senate for an exemption. But Ring drew plenty of support Monday for his proposal.

“There are a lot of people who want to give, but they don’t want to get on someone’s mailing list,” said committee Chairman Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton. “It’s sort of like giving to the Republican Party. They may have money they want to give, but they don’t want to be public about it.”

Ring said, “I never gave one penny to the Republican Party. But I’m on their mailing list.”

 

Pension work nears finish line

Friday, April 29th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Plans to dramatically revamp Florida pensions at the state and city levels appeared headed Friday toward the finish line — far short of where Gov. Rick Scott and lawmakers had initially proposed.

House and Senate negotiators have settled on extracting 3 percent paycheck contributions from 655,000 teachers, police, firefighters and other government employees enrolled in the Florida Retirement System, part of an effort to pull $1.1 billion into the state’s recession-strapped budget.

But a plan to scrap the state’s Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP) has been abandoned,  House and Senate negotiators agreed. The House had wanted to bar the lucrative early retirement program to new enrollees in July; the Senate in 2016.

But what emerged Friday night from House lead negotiator Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne, was a proposal to reduce the 6.5 percent interest rate paid on DROP benefits to 1.3 percent. The move will save $81 million, if agreed to by Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Wellington, the Senate’s lead negotiator on the Florida Retirement System.

Among other changes nearing agreement are a plan to increase the retirement age for new enrollees in the FRS from age 62 to 65.  An existing 3 percent cost-of-living adjustment would be eliminated for service earned after July 1, with Workman saying the goal being that it would be reinstated in 2016.

That change save $404.8 million, analysts said.

Meanwhile, plans to revamp municipal pensions also have been scaled-back. (more…)

Ring: State workers not the enemy

Thursday, March 10th, 2011 by John Kennedy

A key Florida Senate panel eased back Thursday on proposed changes to the state pension plan used by 655,000 teachers and government workers, setting the stage for a likely clash with the House and Gov. Rick Scott.

In a 12-1 vote, the Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee agreed to exempt Florida Retirement System members earning less than $40,000 from contributing to their pensions. Those whose salaries top that would pay 2 percent of their paychecks up to $75,000, when the contribution rate would jump to 4 percent.

Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, sponsor of the measure and the committe chairman, said the new contributions could raise hundreds of millions of dollars.

 But the Senate plan is certain to fall far short of the $1.3 billion Scott and the House are seeking to pull into the recession ravaged budget by making all FRS employees contribute 5 percent of their salaries.

“We tried our hardest and our best not to demonize state workers,” Ring said. “This committee does not believe state workers are the enemy.”

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