Police speak out against Fla. pension overhaul

Fraternal Order of Police opposed to scrapping current system for cash balance option


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – State workers' retirement plans will be getting another heavy look this year in legislative session. Police are now speaking out against an overhaul.

Overhauling the $135 billion Florida Retirement System has been House Speaker Will Weatherford's top priority the past two years. Weatherford knows it won't be easy.

"Last year we came up a little bit short," said Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel. "I think what we're trying to do is find a balance."

The proposal is getting strong opposition from the state's biggest teacher's union and now the nearly 20,000 active members of the Fraternal Order of Police. The FOP is opposed to scrapping the current system for a cash balance option.

"You don't tear your house down because there's a threat of a hurricane; you shore up your house," said Florida FOP President James Preston.

The system is 86 percent funded, but Weatherford said the hurricane is the $500 million a year the state contributes to pension plans unfunded liability. The money could be freed up to use elsewhere.

"Defined benefits in and of their nature usually don't work," said Weatherford. "The state is having to divert money from the education system in this state to bail out of the pension fund."

A cash-balance option would create an individual retirement account that workers would invest in. The state would still be responsible for losses.

Legislators who joined the police union said they would support a pension overhaul on one condition:

"I feel that everyone here would support the bill if they all got a 50 percent pay increase," said Sen. Greg Evers, R-Pensacola.

Evers said that pay increase would happen.

"When it snows in Miami…tonight," said Evers.

Last year, state senators narrowly defeated a pension overhaul, in part because the plan is one of the strongest in the nation.

The current system isn't fully funded because lawmakers have failed to contribute to it in good years and borrowed from it in bad years.

Police are concerned that even if they're exempt from a new pension plan, closing the current system to a chunk of workers would destabilize it and put benefits in jeopardy for everyone.