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Monday October 20th 2014

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Firefighters: Retirement of FL Public Employees in Jeopardy

By Stephanie Carroll Carson, Florida News Connection

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A proposal to change the retirement benefits of public employees, such as teachers and firefighters, is gaining momentum in the Florida House of Representatives.

House Bill 7011 would force all public employees hired by agencies participating in the Florida retirement system after next January into a 401(k)-style plan, instead of the current pension plan.

Gary Rainey, president of Florida Professional Firefighters, says lawmakers are pushing this through without understanding all the consequences.

“Frankly, I don’t think they really care, for the most part,” he said. “The fact that nine Republicans on the committee would vote to do this without having the first numbers saying this is going to cost an exorbitant amount of money, or it’s going to save us money.”

Other states, including New Hampshire and Nevada, considered a similar plan recently, Rainey said, but abandoned it after they realized it would cost the state more instead of saving money. Part of the problem, he said, is that phasing out the pension plan also would reduce the money being paid into the plan for existing workers, and force the state and local municipalities to foot the bill.

Closing the current pension plan would also end benefits such as life insurance or death benefits if employees are hurt or killed in the line of duty. Rainey said death benefits of a newly hired firefighter killed in the line of duty under the 401(k) plan could offer his or her family less than $1,000.

“Not providing any type of disability or death benefit or survivor benefits for families is unconscionable by anyone who is proposing to do this,” he said.

According to the Florida Retirement Security Coalition, no tax increase is needed to fund the current system, which is 86 percent funded. If lawmakers move to the 401(k) plan, the coalition said, tax increases may be necessary.

Opponents of the current pension plan insist that it places a demand on the state budget.

The text of HB 7011 is online at flasenate.gov.