Yesterday there was an interesting “letter to the editor” in the “Sarasota Herald Tribune”, called “State Budget Sense”. The letter was submitted by the CEO of a Tallahassee organization called Florida Tax Watch, and lists “87 ideas worth $3.25 billion” to reduce spending. I’m not really sure who the group is, nor their function, but on their website states that they are “supported by voluntary, tax-deductible memberships and grants” and that “policy makers and government employees have implemented three-fourths of Florida TaxWatch′s cost-saving recommendations, saving the taxpayers of Florida more than $6.2 billion”. It sounds like a lobbyist group, which would answer the question of, why would the CEO of a Tallahassee Group, write a letter to the Sarasota Herald Tribune? I was intrigued enough to go to the site, and look at the 125 page report. Among their suggestions, which have pretty much ALL appeared in recent legislative proposals: Employee contributions to the plan of 5% (SB2022 is starting the process at a lower number to get in the door), Reduce the Credit for Special Risk from 3% to 2%, and for Senior Management from 2% to 1.6% (Think HB 1319 and 1543), Re-evaluate and reduce the who is considered Special Risk, Up the vesting schedule from six years to ten years and last-but-not-least, adjust the 3% COLA increases to the actual Consumer Price Index with a maximum of 3%. Obviously this plan is being endorsed by the legislature, and by publicizing it around the state, it becomes propaganda to endorse the bills to cut your benefits. I also thought it was interesting that some of our elected officials were on the task force. They are as follows:
Senator JD Alexander, Chairman of the Senate Policy and Steering Committee on Ways and Means and Designee of the Senate President to the committee.
Bill McCollum, Attorney General for the State of Florida.
Representative Franklin Sands, Minority Leader of the Florida House of Representatives.
Alex Sink, Chief Financial Officer of the State of Florida.
Will Weatherford, Florida House of Representatives, Designee of the House Speaker.
One wonders if the recommendations of a committee of such members are a foregone conclusion as to the outcome of the process.
It might also seem, the legislators do not want much opposition to their quest. Based on the new 2010 Legislative Update letter on the MyFrs website, your calls and letters might be having a meaningful impact. I believe the proof of your actions is the unbelievably fast push the legislature used in approving HB 5701. The bill was not on the FRS website on Sunday, and by Wednesday had been through the vetting process and approved by the House and forwarded to the Senate. (Time Line for HB5701). The bill was placed on the “special calendar” a, 10:59 PM, and went through three readings and committee approval by 3:30 PM the next afternoon. It would be difficult for anyone to lobby against it in that amount of time. It is disappointing to think that the opposition expressed about HB 1319 and HB 1543 resulted in an expedited voting process. That is very disturbing. Therefore, it is essential we IMMEDIATELY CALL OUR SENATORS AND VOICE OUR DISAPPROVAL TO HB 5701.
The HIS benefit was designed to help Florida Retirement System Pension recipients with a monthly allowance to help offset the high cost of health insurance in retirement. Although technically not a retirement benefit, HIS provides for $5 of monthly benefit for each year of service, to a maximum of $150. Simple math equals an $1800 per year benefit that would be taken away. Here’s some more simple math. If you retire at 62, and live another 25 years, that is a $45,000 benefit you will be losing if this bill passes. That is $45,000 you will have to come out of pocket for to pay for health insurance in your golden years! More importantly, it is a benefit you were promised, you earned, and you were looking forward to.
With a budget shortfall of some $3 billion this year, and potentially $5 billion next year, it is obvious these proposals will continue. I encourage all participants in the Florida Retirement System to continue to monitor these legislative changes, and CALL YOUR LEGISLATORS TO VOICE YOUR OPPOSITION TO ANY LEGISLATION THAT COULD CUT THE BENEFITS YOU WERE PROMISED!