Florida court upholds pension law repealing cost of living increase

Published: Friday, January 18, 2013 at 12:30 PM.

"Balancing the state budget on the backs of middle-class working families is the wrong approach," teachers union president Andy Ford said in a statement.

A ruling against the contribution law would have created a nearly $2 billion budget gap for state and local governments because they then would have had to return the employee contributions.

"We still believe that a promise is a promise," Ford said. "We are more determined than ever to change the face of the Florida Legislature. The next elections in 2014 can turn this decision around."

Although Democrats, who are closely allied with the unions, picked up a few seats in the Legislature last year, Republicans continue to hold large majorities in both chambers.

"The changes made to the Florida Retirement System reflect the Legislature's efforts to maintain a sound retirement system for our hardworking state and local government employees as well as the reality that Florida taxpayers can no longer bear the full cost of this benefit," said Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville.

A key legal issue was how to interpret a law passed in 1974 that declares the retirement rights of public employees are contractual in nature. That year, the Legislature, then led by Democrats, also eliminated employee contributions to the pension plan.

The high court majority cited a 1981 Supreme Court opinion that said the law protected rights and benefits already earned but did not preclude the Legislature from altering benefits prospectively for future service.

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