TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami) – Starting Friday, Florida state government workers will have to contribute 3% of their paycheck to their pension fund, despite a court battle on the change which is just getting started. Late Thursday night, a judge blocked efforts to force the state to put aside money to pay that 3% while the battle moves through the court system,
The Florida Education Association, which is spearheading a lawsuit that challenges the constitutionality of the law, sought a temporary injunction to require the money be set aside. It argued that such a move would ensure workers would receive refunds if the law is ultimately ruled unconstitutional.
Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford acknowledged in an eight-page ruling that it is unclear what funds the state would use to pay back workers if the law is tossed out. But she also wrote that she must “assume that the state of Florida would comply with an order from this court to refund to employees any funds that have been wrongfully deducted from their salary.’’
“The state stipulated that should they ultimately be ordered to refund the 3 percent employee contributions, it was not a matter of whether the refunds would be given, it was only a matter of the state of Florida determining from what source it would make the refunds, in the best financial interest of the public,’’ Fulford wrote.
The law, a priority of Gov. Rick Scott and Republican legislative leaders, will lead to state and local government workers contributing about $800 million a year to the pension fund. Such contributions have not been required since the 1970s.
After Fulford’s ruling late Thursday, the FEA issued a statement saying it was disappointed. But it made clear it will continue to press the broader constitutional challenge to the law.
“While we are disappointed that the court didn’t take action to ensure the availability of funds to pay back to employees if we prevail in the lawsuit, this is a minor setback and cannot be viewed as a determination that our claims are not just,” Meyer said in the statement.
The FEA, backed by other labor groups, filed a class-action lawsuit June 20, arguing that the law violates contractual and collective-bargaining rights of employees.
The teachers union did not seek to block the state from collecting the contributions while the lawsuit moves forward. Instead, it sought the temporary injunction to require that the money be set aside and refunded to workers with interest if the lawsuit is successful.
Fulford on Thursday scheduled an Oct. 26 hearing on broader questions about the law’s constitutionality. Whatever she rules on that issue, attorneys say they expect the Florida Supreme Court to ultimately decide the case — a usually lengthy process.
The News Service of Florida contributed to this report