According to the Calendar for the Florida House of Representatives, the Government Operations subcommittee is scheduled to have a Workshop on Thursday morning, January 24, to discuss potential changes to chapter 121 of the Florida Statutes, which is the statute pertaining to the Florida Retirement System.
The agenda includes potential legislation to close the Pension Plan, and force all new employees into the Investment Plan. While this is not a surprise, it comes prior to the official start of the legislative session . You can read the meeting synopsis at this link: Retirement Changes Agenda, as well as the proposed legislation.
We expect further changes to the Florida Retirement System to be offered up for discussion and action by the legislature. We will try and keep you up to date with the proposals.
As we have feared from the outset, the Florida Supreme Court has ruled in favor of Governor Rick Scott in the “Scott vs. Williams” lawsuit filed on behalf of Florida Retirement System members and the three percent contributions taken out of employee paychecks since July 1 of 2010. The FSC ruling reverses the lower court ruling made by Judge Jackie Fulford in early 2012 indicating the employee contributions and changes were unconstitutional. As details are more clear, we will continue to provide information for members. It would appear there will be no repayment of contributions, and the elimination future COLA benefits will remain in effect.
The court ruling can be obtained by clicking on this link: Supreme Court Decision
Oral Arguments for Case number SC12-50, Governor Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Biondi and Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater vs. George Williams et al. are on the Florida Supreme Court Calendar for Friday, September 7, 2012 at 9:00AM. At stake is the controversial law enacted by the Florida Legislature in the 2011 session requiring employees to contribute three percent of their pay into their retirement plans, and the discontinuation of the annual three percent Cost of Living Adjustment on FRS members pension benefits.
FRSOptions perused the Documents and Filings on the Florida Supreme Court website (something one should only do if they are extremely bored or have insomnia) and, in spite of a great deal of paperwork, documents, and filings, have simplified (we are certainly not experts at legal issues, so this might be an oversimplification) the case as follows;
The Plaintiff believes the law changes are a violation of the Florida Constitution as indicated in the Initial Brief. “Plaintiffs, public employees and members of the FRS, challenge the provisions of the law requiring FRS members to contribute 3% of their gross compensation toward retirement and reducing a cost-of-living adjustment for benefits earned on and after July 1, 2011. The circuit court found that the changes impaired FRS members’ contractual rights, took private property without full compensation, and impaired the right of public employees to collectively bargain.” This opinion is based on the following ruling from 1974.
Just how efficient is the Governor’s “Efficiency Task Force” on FRS?
It is no secret Florida Governor Rick Scott is putting FRS benefits back in his sights for the 2013 legislature. Every day the papers and internet post more stories about FRS being scarily underfunded and the taxpayers are being unfairly burdened by “overly generous” pensions to public workers. We can only guess that, this being an election year, the legislators made an effort to appease FRS members (and their votes) with few and minor changes in the 2011 legislative session. It does not appear that will be the case next year. Scott recently went on the record saying that pension plan reform is one of his key financial challenges for the state.
The Governor’s “Government Efficiency Task Force” stacked with his supportive favorites, Senate President Haridopolis and House Speaker Cannon brought back recommendations that coincide with the Governor’s mandates for “pension reform”. No surprise there! We can’t help but wonder if the Task Force really studied the issue or just had a little guidance from the Governor as to what “efficiencies” they should look for? They identified the FRS Pension Plan as one of their key areas for legislative change. Again, there is no surprise to those who have been watching how politics really work. The task force commentary creates more questions for us than it answers.
“Scott has identified funding for the pension plan as one of the two key financial challenges facing the state”.
There appears to be considerable interest in the recent decrease in contributions (MyFRS.com Contribution Changes) to the Florida Retirement System by HB 5005, and most notably the effect of that decrease to the members of the Investment Plan. We have been repeatedly asked to help educate our readers on the process, and to that effect, we have attempted to shed some light on the recent changes. Hopefully this will dispel rumor and false belief, and provide a background and some insight for members to understand what is happening, and what their FRS Options may be. Because the Pension Plan is a Defined Benefit Plan, the reduced contributions will have no effect on Pension Plan members. There were no changes to the Pension Plan benefits this year. On the other hand, the Investment Plan, as a Defined Contribution Plan, will see 30% less money going into their retirement plans as a result of the lowered contribution requirements. While Florida law may necessitate the changes, it seems counter-intuitive to see the Investment Plan members get punished, as the desired goal of the legislators is to have members move to the Investment Plan.
According to Florida Law, Statute 1121.71, Contributions to the Florida Retirement System are determined on an annual basis by a study of the FRS plan by the designated actuary. You may follow this link to the actual statute (Florida Statutes regarding annual retirement contributions). We have quoted the pertinent paragraph here:
1121.71 Uniform rates; process; calculations; levy.—(1) In conducting the system actuarial study required under s. 121.031, the actuary shall follow all requirements specified to determine, by Florida Retirement System employee membership class, the dollar contribution amounts necessary for the next fiscal year for the pension plan. In addition, the actuary shall determine, by Florida Retirement System membership class, based on an estimate for the next fiscal year of the gross compensation of employees participating in the investment plan, the dollar contribution amounts necessary to make the allocations required under ss. 121.72 and 121.73. For each employee membership class and subclass, the actuarial study must establish a uniform rate necessary to fund the benefit obligations under both Florida Retirement System retirement plans by dividing the sum of total dollars required by the estimated gross compensation of members in both plans.
FRS Options has received many requests in regard to the posting on the MyFRS.com site concerning SB 5005. We hope this will help. SB 5005 was simply a proposal by the legislature to match the contributions into the Florida Retirement System to the amounts required by the actuaries. SB 5005 was not passed, and was sent to the Conference Committee for final resolution. The results of the committee are not yet known to us.
We have provided a copy of the Legal Analysis done by the Senate. It contains some interesting language, which we have highlighted below.
Circuit Court Judge Jackie L. Fulford handed down a ruling today that would reverse the actions of the 2011 Legislature in assessing a mandatory 3% contribution from members of the Florida Retirement System. You may read the Official Ruling Here.
The following is an excerpt from the ruling, which is the gist of Judge Fulford’s ruling”
Judge Jackie Fulford has ruled the mandantory employee contributions to the Florida Retirement System and the members’ retirement plans to be unconstitutional. In recognizing the legislature made the law in respect to the budget crisis, Judge Fulford said “This court cannot set aside its constitutional obligations because a budget crisis exists in the State of Florida.”
More to come as we investigate what is in store! Stay tuned.