TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) — After a divided appeals court sided with Gov. Rick Scott, a battle about his 2015 veto of pay raises for state firefighters could be decided by the Florida Supreme Court.
The International Association of Firefighters Local S-20 filed a notice this week as a first step in asking the Supreme Court to take up the case. The notice of appeal, as is common, does not provide detailed arguments.
The notice stems from a June ruling by the 1st District Court of Appeal that rejected arguments that Scott’s veto of $2,000 pay raises for firefighters violated collective-bargaining rights. In a 2-1 ruling, the appeals court said Scott acted within his authority to veto spending items in the state budget — and that lawmakers could have overridden the veto but did not.
The appeals court upheld a decision by the state Public Employees Relations Commission, which dismissed an unfair labor-practice charge brought by the union.
The veto, which was controversial at the time, followed a series of events that included a bargaining impasse on a union request for $1,500 pay raises for the 2015-2016 fiscal year, according to the June 6 appeals-court decision. The Legislature resolved the impasse by including $2,000 raises for firefighters in budget fine print known as “proviso” language.
Scott vetoed the proviso language, which had the effect of resolving the impasse by “maintaining the status quo,” the appeals court said. After the veto, the union filed the unfair labor-practice charge, setting off the legal fight.
A state law gives the Legislature responsibility for resolving impasses in collective bargaining, but the appeals-court majority focused heavily in the June ruling on Scott’s constitutional authority to veto spending items in the budget. It said the veto “did not displace the Legislature’s power to resolve the impasse in this case.”
“(While) it is true that public employees possess important, constitutionally protected collective bargaining rights, the Legislature cannot force the governor’s hand to approve and sign the GAA (General Appropriations Act, a formal name for the budget), or specific appropriations therein,” said the ruling, written by appeals-court Judge Timothy Osterhaus and joined by Judge Harvey Jay. “The Legislature here retained and exercised its ultimate authority to resolve the impasse after the governor’s veto, but chose not to override the veto and to maintain the status quo.”
But Judge Brad Thomas dissented, saying the Legislature’s decision to earmark a total of $1.57 million to resolve the impasse “should be the final result, absent a compelling state interest that cannot be rectified by reasonable alternative means.”
“The question at issue here is whether the governor, by using his veto power, may unilaterally vacate the Legislature’s decision to resolve a collective-bargaining impasse,” Thomas wrote in the dissent. “Based on logic, precedent, and the constitutional basis of public employees’ collective bargaining rights, the correct answer is no.”