Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Hard Truth From Orlando

Well, it’s official. Beginning July 1st, 2011, all Florida state employees have to kick in 3% of their salaries towards retirement, retirement funds that used to be entirely paid for by the State of Florida and part of the benefit package for remaining in the state public service at a significantly lower pay rate than the private employment sector. Of course, the old period of employment before you became vested in the retirement system and entitled to any of it was 10 years – but then Republican governor Jeb Bush was the one who approved reduction of the investment period to a mere six years. He also introduced the retirement option plan of state employees having their retirement funds put into the stock market or into the long-term retirement, with a guaranteed rate of pay upon reaching the retirement age – basically, a dividend that you could cash in when you left state service or a regular fixed check when you retired – one or the other, but not both.

Jeb Bush also hired the Arthur Andersen accounting firm to oversee the Florida Retirement Pension, considered then and now as one of the best in the nation. That made me flinch at the time because everyone knew that Arthur Andersen was responsible for the failure to audit and report the criminal Enron fraud, which made history as one of the largest corporate bankruptcies in American history. And “fiscally responsible” Republican Jeb handed over the pension plan of all of Florida ’s public servants to these criminally inept or just plain criminal guys to monitor.

I don’t know how many people since those changes have pulled their money out of the retirement system before they reached retirement age, but you know that had to cost the State. With only six years to be vested, this change encouraged transition of state employees, creating a constant drain of monetary resources when people pulled out their retirement funds as they left Florida ’s service. So Governor Scott is raising the years to vestment to 8 years, splitting the difference between 6 years (a ludicrous figure) and 10 years, and cutting retirement 3% COLA (Cost of Living Allowances) for retirees until further notice.

I believe that’s when the DROP program came into being as well, under Jeb Bush. This is the program we’ve seen everyone screaming about for some time, the legalized “double-dipping” where an employee could retire and come back in one month and collect a retirement check and another full paycheck while earning still a second retirement to be cashed in when they retire for keeps The DROP program is finally being dismantled, as well it should be – but it’s funny that this program largely benefited the guys making the most money, and particularly those working up in Tallahassee, rather than the little administrative folks at the bottom of the salary food chain.

There’re other changes as well, but those are some of the big ones – basically, a 3% pay cut across the board for State employees, plus the 3% which the State will no longer be paying into the retirement system because the employees are paying out of their salaries – so really a 6% pay cut for State employees.

Judicial assistants have to pay their portion of the medical benefits like everyone else. That’s about $80 a month for family coverage and $45 a month for individual (the State still covers the ridiculous 300 plus premium per family coverage or $100 plus for individual coverage). My question is, the judicial assistants, being the lowest on the totem pole of salaries – are the judges and all the Select Exempt Service guys and our state legislators and honorable governor paying their part of the premiums or do they still get their medical coverage completely free as they have for decades? I mean, if it’s fair for the folks with the lowest salary (but not lower hours or responsibilities) to pay their portion, what about the guys making the big bucks who can really afford that and not even flinch?

I’m just wondering – are our Governor’s retirement and benefits still free or does he (and the Republican Florida State Congress) have to set the example and kick in his fair share, too?

Florida Cracker

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