Florida court upholds pension law repealing cost of living increase

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

Justice Jorge Labarga wrote for the majority that the same principle applied to the new law that restored employee contributions, so it does not violate employees' contract rights nor take away property in the form of their pension benefits.

The new law also doesn't violate collective bargaining rights guaranteed by the Florida Constitution for public and private employees because it doesn't prohibit such negotiations between unions and employers, Labarga wrote.

"Although I understand the frustration of state employees, who have in effect taken a 3 percent pay cut in addition to years without cost-of-living adjustments, this case is not about the wisdom or fairness of the Legislature's decision," Justice Barbara Pariente wrote in a concurring opinion.

Labarga and Pariente were joined by Chief Justice Ricky Polston and Justice Charles Canady, the high court's two most reliably conservative members.

In a dissent, Justice James Perry argued the 1981 ruling was wrong and the high court should have receded from it. Justices R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince concurred with Perry.

"The retirement benefits protected by contract, as established by the Legislature, were simply taken from our first responders, those who protect us, those who teach and protect our children and others who have provided us services every day, to be used for other purposes," Lewis wrote in a separate dissent.

Un-rebutted expert testimony shows the law will cost each public employee from $12,446 to $329,684 over the span of their working years, Lewis noted. He pointed out the employee contributions, meanwhile, saved the state $861 million in the 2011-12 budget. That's money the state didn't need because the budget also included $1.2 billion in unspent general revenue, he contended.

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