TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) –
A proposal pushed by the leader of the Florida Senate to close the state’s pension plan to most new enrollees won approval Thursday from the Republican-controlled chamber, but its fate was uncertain as it headed to the House for possible consideration.
Senate President Wilton Simpson has made the legislation a priority, calling the state’s pension fund “the single largest threat to Florida’s balance sheet.”
He said the measure was meant to keep the pension fund solvent as its liabilities grow. Simpson noted that the fund’s liabilities now total $36 billion, more than double from about a decade ago.
“We have seen examples in other states of how quickly conditions can change and a government can experience financial crisis under the weight of its future retirement obligations,” Wilson said in a statement after the party-line vote. “Waiting until conditions worsen in Florida to fix these problems is like closing the barn door after the horses are out.”
The retirement system has more than 1 million enrollees and is the main retirement program for scores of Florida cities, independent hospitals and special districts.
Most legislative proposals have a companion bill in the opposite chamber – but that is not the case with Senate Bill 84, which would make significant changes to the state’s public employee retirement system.
The Senate proposal would cut off most new government employees from joining the pension fund. Their only option would be an investment plan similar to a 401K.
“It will destroy the Florida Retirement System as we know it,” said Kelly Benjamin, a spokesperson for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees of Florida.
“This is a bill that punishes frontline workers,” he said. “It’s a travesty and we shouldn’t be gambling with our public retirement system.”
Democrats argued against the measure as unnecessary, saying Florida’s public employee pension fund is among the county’s most stable.
“The true intended purpose of SB84 is clear: This bill simply aims to eliminate traditional pensions for our Florida state workers, our Florida teachers and other local government employees as covered by the Florida Retirement system,” said Sen. Annette Taddeo.
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