No changes to state pensions this year

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BY BRANDON LARRABEE
THE NEWS SERVICE  OF FLORIDA

TALLAHASSEE – The House has abandoned plans to overhaul the state pension plan for public employees, at least for this year, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli said Monday.

150320_florida02In a statement issued by his office, the Merritt Island Republican said he would not push the issue after getting new reports from Milliman, a consultant, about projected savings that would come from making changes to the Florida Retirement System. FRS provides retirement plans for employees who work for the state, counties and school districts.

Crisafulli said the House had asked Milliman to revisit its earlier study of a pension bill that died in the Senate last year, expecting similar results.

“However, the results from the most recent study of the very same bill changed from several billions of dollars in savings to millions of dollars in costs,” he said. “Given the unexpected and puzzling report, we believe it is important to pause and understand what factors caused such a dramatic shift.”

2016 change possible
The speaker did not rule out taking another run at FRS reform in 2016.

The prospects of passing changes to the pension plan this year have always seemed questionable.

The 40-member Senate, which has for years resisted House proposals to revamp FRS, is essentially unchanged from 2014, meaning that a majority of senators would likely once again vote down any significant legislation.

Last year’s plan would have put workers who don’t choose between the pension plan and a 401(k)-style investment plan into the investment plan; those employees are usually sent into the traditional pension by default. It also would have increased the vesting period from eight years to 10.

‘Serious problems’
In his statement, Crisafulli suggested that the House could afford to wait because FRS “is not in crisis today.” But he said the House would push to overhaul local pension plans for police officers and firefighters. Those retirement plans are funded in part by state insurance premium taxes.

“In contrast, we do have serious problems with local pension plans in Florida. It is for this reason that I have asked Chair Caldwell to focus this year solely on local pension reform,” Crisafulli said, referring to House State Affairs Chairman Matt Caldwell, R-North Fort Myers.

The Senate has been more far more supportive of addressing the shortfalls in many local pension systems, though the Florida League of Cities is now balking at a deal hammered out between cities and unions last year. That compromise died during the 2014 session in the crossfire over state pension legislation.

Rep. Dwayne Taylor, a key Democrat on pension issues, praised Crisafulli’s move in a statement Monday.

“I thank Speaker Crisafulli for his decision, given the results of those studies, to focus this year on other pressing matters,” said Taylor, D-Daytona Beach. “We look forward to working together with our Republican colleagues to allow municipal pensions the flexibility they need.”

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