And they’re off …. HB 525 introduced to cut FRS benefits

And they’re off…

The Florida House of Representatives session does not begin until January, but already Representative Ritch Workman has introduced a bill that will cut benefits to Florida Retirement System members.  While it is too early to give it much attention, it is obviously a harbinger of things to come.  Workman, if you remember introduced a bill last year that was intended to radically cut benefits, has introduced HB 525 months before the session even begins.

Some of the changes include:

The proposal would change the default plan in the Florida Retirement System from the Pension Plan to the Investment Plan.  Currently when a member enrolls in FRS they are automatically in the Pension Plan.  Workman would like to change that to the Investment Plan.  It appears that he would like to limit the ability to enroll in the Pension Plan to the first 12 months of service.  If you don’t (or are unaware of your options) move to the Pension Plan in those first 12 months, you lose your right to ever go into the Pension, and are then limited to participation in the Investment Plan from then on.  We would construe this as an introduction to the elimination of the Pension Plan for new employees in the near future.  (Lines 220 to 243, and 426 to 429).

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Be Forewarned!

The legislature may reduce future benefits to lessen plan liabilities, or may raise employee contributions to increase funding.

2012 is a major election year.  Due to the 2010 Census results, Florida will undergo redistricting for legislative purposes.  As a result, ALL Representatives and Senators will be up for re-election next year.  The legislature is already in preliminary committee meetings, and the regular session will begin in January.  It will be a big year, and we would highly urge all FRS members to anticipate another session of potential cuts to their benefits.  The writing is on the wall, and in very large letters. 

You only need to look at the MyFRS.com homepage where you will find a special notice box with the headline “Volatile Financial Markets”, there is a second headline – “Funding of the FRS Pension Planunder which you will see the following;

BE FOREWARNED: The FRS Pension Plan is less than 100 percent funded. The legislature may reduce future benefits to lessen plan liabilities, or may raise employee contributions to increase funding. The legislature may make changes to FRS at any time”.

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The “New” FRS COLA

As of July 1, 2011 there will be some changes made…you will receive no further credit for COLA for the five years after July 1, 2011.

As you are aware, one of the better benefits within the Florida Retirement System has been the automatic 3% Cost of Living Adjustment that FRS adds to your Pension checks each year.  Over the course of a 24 year retirement, the COLA would almost double your annual pension, which would hopefully allow your standard of living to keep up with rising prices and inflation.

COLA is a simple process.  Each year, beginning on July 1, your pension check is increased by 3% more than what it had been for the previous 12 months.  That 3% compounds each year, meaning next year’s 3% pension increase will be added to last year’s pension increase, which was added to last year’s pension hike, and so on.  To illustrate, let’s assume you Pension check is $2500 at retirement.  Next year, it will be $2500, plus 3% ($75), so your pension check will be $2,575.  Year three FRS will add 3% to the Second year amount which is $82.50, so the third year checks will be $2,657.50, and so forth.  If you retire at 62, by the time you reach age 85 your monthly pension check will be almost $4,900!

As of July 1, 2011 there will be some changes made.

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The “New” FRS DROP

there is no magic to DROP, the bulk of the DROP benefit is simply your own pension being returned to you after the 5 years.

For those of you that were interested in entering the DROP, you might not want to give up so quickly because of the decrease in interest rates.  The rate reduction from 6.5% to 1.3% initiated by the Florida Legislature as of July 1 does not necessarily make the Deferred Retirement Option Program obsolete.  Certainly, it lowers the earnings, but, the biggest part of the DROP sum is not interest, but simply your pension payments accruing each month in the DROP account.  There seems to be some misunderstanding about these numbers.  It appears that those of you choosing to enter the DROP on or after July 1 will earn the lower 1.3% interest rate on your pension payments.  If you are already in the DROP, and once you begin the DROP, you will NOT have to make the 3% employee contributions!

Your DROP amount will not decrease by 70%, only the interest earned will.  As we discussed on our web page FRSOptions.info , there is no magic to DROP, the bulk of the DROP benefit is simply your own pension being returned to you after the 5 years.

When you enter the DROP, you technically retire and begin to receive your pension.  Since you are going to continue to work, instead of the pension checks coming to you each month, those checks are deposited in your “DROP account”, and interest is then added to it.  The monthly amount going into your DROP is determined by the same calculation as your pension, which is:  Years of service, multiplied by service credit (3% for special risk, or 1.6% for regular members.  The result is then multiplied by your Average Final Compensation, which is the 5 years of your highest earnings.  For example, you have worked 30 years, and average of your highest five years of compensation (your AFC) is $50,000.   Your calculation is 30 times 1.6%, times $50,000, or a pension of 48% of $50,000, or $24,000 per year – so you would receive $2,000 per month into your DROP account.  Each year, on July 1, you will receive an annual increase by whatever your Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) is.

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Conference Committee Amendment

The official Conference Committee Agreement has been posted on the Senate Web site.

Here is the link to the official

Conference Committee Agreement

from the Senate Web site.

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Florida House and Senate Agree on FRS Reform!

The changes are substantial, but not nearly as dire as Governor Scott wanted. Employees to contribute 3%, DROP stays at 1.3%

It appears we have a Final Agreement between the House and Senate on changes to the Florida Retirement System.  The changes are substantial, but not nearly as dire as Governor Scott wanted.  There will be NO changes for those already retired, or those already in the DROP, your benefits remain the same. Many of the more radical changes only affect those hired after July 1, 2011.  Changes for new hires only are:

For members after July 1, AFC become the highest 8 fiscal years.

Increases retirement age for all new hires after July 1:

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FRS Conference Committee Named

The Conference Committee members are in line to decide the fate of Pension Reform for the Florida Retirement System

It appears the Conference Committee members are in line to decide the fate of Pension Reform for the Florida Retirement System.  As discussed previously, since the House and Senate could not agree on the proposals put forth, the House and Senate have appointed conferees to determine what course the legislature will take as to the reduction or elimination of your retirement benefits.  It can be presumed that whatever agreement the Committee comes up with, will be presented to the Governor for his signature.

In the Senate, Senate President Mike Haridopolos named J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, as the chairman of the Senate Conference with Joe Negron, R-Palm City, as vice-chairman. At large conferees will be republicans Andy Gardiner of Orlando (Majority Leader), Don Gaetz of Destin and John Thrasher of Jacksonville.  Democratics named arer Nan Rich of Sunrise and Gary Siplin, D-Orlando.

In the House of Representatives, Speaker Dean Cannon tapped Representative Denise Grimsley as the House Leader of the conferees. Representing the house as republicans will be GOP Leader Carlos Lopez-Cantera of Miami, Gary Aubuchon of Cape Coral, Dorothy Hukill of Port Orange, Paige Kreegel of Punta Gorda, Speaker Pro Tempore John Legg of Port Richey, Seth McKeel of Lakeland, William Proctor of St. Augustine, Rob Schenck of Spring Hill,  William Snyder of Stuart and Incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford of Wesley Chapel. On the Democratic side will be Democratic Leader Ron Saunders of Key West, Chuck Chestnut of Gainesville, Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg and Franklin Sands of Weston.

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Pension Reform Stalemate goes to Conference!

Since both Houses (the Senate and House of Representatives) sent each other their differing versions of pension reform, and refused to accept either, it will now go to a Conference Committee.

Things will start to get crazy now.  The Senate has passed SB 2100, which is their version of pension reform.  The House, however,  presented  HB 1405, with language that does not coincide with SB 2100.  In order to become law, the same bill must pass both houses in identical language – which they have not.  Since both Houses (the Senate and House of Representatives) sent each other their differing versions of pension reform, and refused to accept either, it appears the matter will now go to a Conference Committee, probably next week.

This is a quote from the Senate Website in regard to the Conference Committee: “For a bill to become an act it must be passed by both houses in precisely the same words and figures. The second house frequently amends and returns the bill to the house of origin.  In the case of bills with substantial differences, the shortcut of a conference committee likely will be taken almost immediately.”  The Conference Committee is really just a horse trading forum; where members from both houses participate in a negotiation process.  According to the Senate site “Conference committees are intended to reconcile differences. This suggests a give-and-take process because if a majority of the conferees from either house refuses to budge, the conference would be stalemated and the bill could fail. However, this rarely happens”.

Ultimately, a group of legislators go into a room, and come out with an agreement.  The process could be either good or bad, as the group doesn’t have to conform to the original bills, and can come up with their own version.  The Speaker of the House, Dean Cannon, and President of the Senate, Mike Haradopolos, have indicated they think they will be ready to go to Conference next week.

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SB 2100 passes 2nd reading with amendments!

SB 2100 has passed its 2nd reading and is heading to the third and final reading.

As best as we can decipher the myriad amendments, amendments to the amendments, and replacements to the amendments, SB 2100 has passed its 2nd reading and is heading to the third and final reading.  The changes would seem to indicate the following:

  • Employee contributions would be a graduated scale; 2% on the first $25,000, 4% for compensation between $25,000 and $50,000, and 6% for compensation over %50,000.
  • AFC will include up to 300 hours of overtime, and 500 hours of accumulated leave time.
  • The DROP will continue through July 1, 2016.  No new enrollees after that date.
  • The interest rate for DROP members entering after July 1, 2011 will be reduced to 2%, it will stay at 6.5% for those enrolling before July 1.
  • Vesting for the Pension goes to 10 years for those hired after July 1.  Only those hired in Special Risk may participate in the Pension Plan after July, all other new hires must participate in the Investment Plan.
  • Special Risk members retain the normal retirement date of age 55 or 25 years of service.
  • Accrual rates remain the same.

 

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Some better news, new amendments to SB2100 an HB1405

Today Senator Ring introduced several amendments to SB 2100 that (as we read and interpret) make the following notable and positive changes

Wow, what a difference a day makes.  Today Senator Ring introduced several amendments to SB 2100 that (as we read and interpret) make the following notable and positive changes:

  • ·         The DROP would be extended for five more years.  This would allow members to enter the DROP up until  July 1, of 2016.
  • ·         Special Risk would retain the normal retirement ages of 25 years of service, or age 55.
  • ·         Allow  up to 300 hours of overtime in the calculation of Average Final Compensation
  • ·         Specifies DROP members do not have to make employee contribution.

These are all steps in the right direction!

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