State & National News

Firefighters: Retirement of FL Public Employees in Jeopardy

February 14, 2013

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

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  • Eric2 February 18, 2013 at 8:34 am

    fyi the stock market has recovered, as have peoples investments in it.

  • joe February 16, 2013 at 6:45 pm

    It its an emotional nerve to hear a gov’t employee be promised a generous retirement and think he may have live on dog food and have no across the board pay increase in two decades. Why should there ever be across the board pay increases…pay increases should be tied to merit, not longevity? But guess what, gov’t pension plans invest in the stock market and “newsflash, it tanked a few years back. Further, there are not enough present taxpayers for gov’t employees to have generous lifetime benefits from funds they’ve paid little or nothing in to. To blame it on Republican moralists takes his argument from compelling to nonsensical, imo.

  • Jeremy Knickerson February 16, 2013 at 1:14 pm

    I am 58 years old and have worked for the State of Florida since I was 28. I was promised a generous retirement plan and annual COLA raises when I was hired and was the main reason I decided to work in the public sector. We have not had an across-the-board raise in nearly two decades.

    Individual agencies have managed to scrape together enough money to give infrequent and small pay bumps but our buying power had gone backwards. The only benefit we have left is the retirement plan which has already been savaged by the Florida legislature and governor. We lost 3 percent of our salary to Governor Scott, we had our DROP program destroyed and now this tea bagging, corrupt moron wants to punish us further.

    If I were a young man again I would not go near a government job. Unfortunately I have 30 years invested into the system and face a retirement of dog food, welfare and the scorn of Republican moralists who condemn me and my co-workers for a job well done.

    Cops, firefighters and teachers are all scum of the Earth, right? Try living in a society without us.

  • Moose February 14, 2013 at 1:08 pm

    I agree that these types of decisions and their consequences should be vetted out before being made. That said, the comment about the current system costing us more if it is closed is likely based on the plan also lowering the assumed Rate of Return from their funds so that more money has to be used to meet their distribution expectations for the retirees. Ironically, if they had just used a more conservative Rate or Return (6% instead of 7 or 8%) or used a Real Rate of Return instead of an Average the financial picture of their retirement system would have been more rosy and this wouldn’t be a topic. Instead, you had firefighters sitting on pension boards preventing decisions like this from being made in the past for fear it would have lowered their benefits. Now they are out of the discussion on that decision all together. Then they make comments about their “life insurance” benefits being cut if the pension system is changed. That is pure BS. Rainey and anyone with even a modicum of knowledge of what firefighters have available to them know that they are offered life insurance on a group basis from the State and there is no good reason they can’t purchase an inexpensive life insurance policy for $500k or $1M for their family on their own. Trying to say that their pension is a life insurance benefit is a flat out lie. If an insurance agent or financial planner sold their client on the idea of investing their money in the market as a means of life insurance, they would be sued so hard their grandchildren would be answering motions.