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Sunday, Aug 31, 2014
Politics

Future of pension reform next year still not clear


Published:

— With no certain answers about whether the House will push changes to the Florida Retirement System in 2015, supporters of local pension reform are hoping to give their proposal a clearer shot next year.

Outgoing House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, for two years pushed to overhaul the Florida Retirement System, known as FRS, which provides retirement benefits to hundreds of thousands of state, county and school employees.

But House Majority Leader Steve Crisafulli, a Merritt Island Republican set to succeed Weatherford after the November elections, said “it’s just too early to tell” whether the state pension issue will return in 2015.

“I think a lot of topics are on the table right now,” Crisafulli said. “I can’t sit here and take any issues off the table at this moment in time.”

The status of the FRS has been a flashpoint in the Capitol for years.

In 2011, lawmakers approved a measure requiring workers to contribute 3 percent of their salaries to the retirement plan. Two years later, Weatherford sought to close the traditional pension plan to new employees and push them into a 401(k)-style plan. In 2014, he and Senate supporters pushed for changes expected to encourage workers to enter the investment plan, though they would have left the traditional pension open.

While the 2011 legislation passed, moderate GOP senators blocked Weatherford’s proposals the last two sessions.

Meanwhile, efforts to overhaul local police and firefighter pension plans — many of which are less sturdy than the state plan — have repeatedly become entangled in the FRS debate, most clearly in 2014, when the House melded the two measures together in one bill.

The most recent version of the local legislation had nearly universal support, including the backing of the Florida League of Cities and the Florida Police Benevolent Association. The league and the PBA had been on opposite sides of the issue, which dealt with how local governments can use insurance-premium taxes that bankroll the pension plans.

Essentially, the bill would have repealed restrictions in state law on how the premium taxes are spent, so long as local governments and unions agree. If there is no agreement, the taxes would be sifted through a formula detailing how much should be spent on benefits and how much should be given to workers in a separate retirement account.

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