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Scott Wants Fla. Employees To Pay Toward Pensions

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Florida Governor Rick Scott during his inauguration speech on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011. (Photo Credit: Florida Channel)

Florida Governor Rick Scott during his inauguration speech on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011. (Photo Credit: Florida Channel)

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TALLAHASSEE (CBS4) — Florida’s state workers, teachers and many local government employees may soon be paying out of their own pocket to contribute to their own retirement fund.

Gov. Rick Scott wants to cut pension benefits while also requiring state workers, teachers and government employees to contribute 5 percent of their salaries to the Florida Retirement System.

The new Republican governor also said Tuesday he didn’t think he’s politicizing the roll out of his budget recommendations by doing it at a Tea Party event next week in Eustis.

Scott jetted to Naples, his hometown, to announce that his recommended pension changes would save $2.8 billion over two years.

That would help close a potential budget gap that could top $6 billion, including $2 billion in tax cuts Scott is seeking, for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Florida is the only state that doesn’t require at least some employees to contribute to their pension plan.

It would be another financial blow for many, like Miami-Dade teachers, who only make a starting salary of $38,000.

“They are very, very angry. They are very concerned because the number of years of service we give and the expectation of retirement with dignity is being taken away at this point,” said United Teachers of Dade President Karen Aronowitz.

The pension plan’s assets had fallen from a pre-recession peak of $134 billion to $109.5 billion as of last July, but it’s now back up to $125 billion.

Even at the July asset level, the Florida plan had an 87.9 percent ratio of assets to liabilities, one of the highest in the nation for public retirement plans.

Regular state workers accrue retirement benefits at the rate of 1.6 percent of salary annually. Scott has proposed cutting higher rates for senior management employees, elected officials and judges to that level. Special risk employees such a law enforcement officers would be reduced from 3 percent to 2 percent.

The Police Benevolent Association is also shooting down supporters who argue that private sector workers pay their way into retirement plans, and so should those on taxpayer funded public payrolls.

“Private sector never had a problem when they made three times the amount and our public servants risk their lives. It is a reality. We are not talking abstracts. We just buried four officers,” said PBA Executive Director Blanca Greenwood.

Scott also wants to eliminate cost of living adjustments for service earned after July 1. Current retirees won’t be effected by that change.

The governor also has proposed eliminating the Deferred Retirement Option Program. DROP lets retirees return to work while still receiving pensions. It was set up to keep experienced workers, mostly teachers, on the job.

The Republican-controlled Legislature is expected to be receptive to the proposals. Organizers say thousands of GOP-leaning tea party activists may attend the budget unveiling next Monday at a park in Eustis. The small central Florida town is nearly 200 miles from Tallahassee, where governors usually present their spending proposals to the Legislature.

Previous governors have gone on the road, though, to announce various pieces of their budget plans before releasing the proposals in full.

That’s what Scott began doing Monday when he went The Villages retirement community, also in central Florida, to announce proposals for consolidating some state functions including growth management, which he said would save $1 billion over two years.

(©2011 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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