Sen. Evers: 'It'll be snowing in Miami' when pension bill passes

Florida capitol building
Florida capitol building

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A law-enforcement union and one of the Republican senators who helped kill an overhaul of the state pension system last year came out Thursday against this year's version of the revamp, appearing to further dim hopes for a compromise bill to pass.

"When it passes, it'll be snowing in Miami," Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, said.

Evers was one of a handful of renegade GOP senators who sank a more-sweeping pension overhaul last year. Supporters had hoped that carving out law-enforcement and emergency workers in this year's legislation would make it easier for lawmakers like Evers to support.

But so far, the effort appears to have stalled. The Senate proposal (SB 1114) cleared the Community Affairs Committee by one vote last month after Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater, another one of the Republicans who voted against last year's overhaul, opposed it.

Baker spoke at a press event with the Fraternal Order of Police, a law-enforcement union that is opposed to this year's measure. James Preston, the president of the organization's Florida State Lodge, said even exempting "special risk" workers didn't make the proposal any more palatable to the organization.

He said those employees make up a small slice of people paying into the Florida Retirement System.

"If we're carved out and all those other members are no longer putting into the system, eventually, that system is going to collapse, it's going to destabilize because no fresh money's coming in," Preston said. "And it will eventually affect us. We know if we're carved out this year, they're coming back after us a year from now or two years from now."

The pension-reform bill is one of the top priorities of House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville. Weatherford pushed a bill last year that would have moved all future retirees into a 401(k)-style investment plan, instead of the state's traditional pension plan.

This year's Senate proposal would still close the Florida Retirement System's traditional pension plan to new employees after July 1, 2015, though those employees already in the system would remain. New hires would be required to choose between the investment plan and a "cash balance" plan, which in some ways would act like a 401(k) but would guarantee a minimum benefit.

Sen. Wilton Simpson, a Trilby Republican who has sponsored SB 1114, told a reporter as he left an unrelated committee meeting that he didn't want to comment about the pension bill. When told that the Fraternal Order of Police had announced its opposition to the measure, Simpson said: "Now, there's a shocker."

Evers indicated his support could be won for the bill -- if the Legislature agrees to a condition that even he said was incredibly unlikely.

"You give state employees, whether they're wearing a uniform and carrying a gun or whether they're sitting behind a desk, you give every employee a 50 percent pay raise, and then I think that we could take and redo the FRS," he said.