July 08, 2011| By: Alphonso Mayfield
Published: Orlando Sentinel
Two weeks ago Florida Public Services Union joined teachers, police officers, nurses and public service workers from across Florida in suing Gov. Rick Scott over new pension-reform legislation passed during the 2011 legislative session. This new legislation amounts to a 3-percent pay cut for public workers by requiring all public employees who are enrolled in the Florida Retirement System to begin paying into their own pensions.
Critics of our lawsuit argue that public workers are breaking the back of state and local governments.
Let me be clear: Public workers understand better than anyone that Florida is in midst of unprecedented economic turmoil. We have no qualms sacrificing, along with families around Florida, when times get tough. But to claim Florida’s pension system is on the brink of failure or that taxpayers are weighed down funding public sector retirements is false.
What this legislation boils down to is an unconstitutional income tax levied only on public workers. Reaching into the pockets of working families to cover a state budget shortfall that was created by careless politicians in Tallahassee can only be characterized as a tax.
Taxpayers are “on the hook” for the retirements of public workers far less than opponents of this lawsuit claim. The belly-aching over public pensions in the Florida Legislature would lead you to believe that payouts to retirees are breaking the back of state and local governments. But according to a report by the National Association of State Retirement Administrators, the taxpayer contribution to retirement plans in Florida, as a percentage of all state and local government spending, was only 2.37 percent as of 2008, versus the national average of 2.89 percent.
With multibillion-dollar corporations receiving tax breaks and government handouts from Gov. Scott and the Florida Legislature, it’s disingenuous to assert that a program that accounts for less then 3 percent of city and state budgets could be the cause of our exploding budget shortfalls.
On top of that, most of the money that retired public workers receive in payouts comes from investment returns, not taxpayer money.
We’re not fighting this law because we feel it’s unreasonable for the Florida Legislature to ask us to sacrifice. We’re fighting because the governor funded $37 million in corporate tax breaks at the expense of public employees and balanced the state budget on the backs of Florida’s working families.
Alphonso Mayfield is the president of SEIU Florida Public Services Union which represents 19,000 public sector workers across Florida.