The readers’ forum

A modest pension change will benefit everyone

 

In an era of sweeping pension reform, across the country, Florida’s cities on behalf of our local taxpayers, are seeking a modest change to state law. It’s a common-sense change that will protect and secure local city pension benefits for police officers and firefighters for generations to come.

By way of background, in 1999 the state’s police and firefighter unions hailed a change in state law that mandated ever-increasing pension benefits for those they represent. The union-backed change said that insurance premium tax dollars above the amounts received in 1999 could only be used to increase or add new pension benefits.

One doesn’t need to be an actuary or have an advanced degree in accounting to know that at some point, something would have to give. For more than a decade the unions have steadfastly protected their interpretation of that law and have reaped huge benefits — and benefit increases. But this union-backed state mandate on local city taxpayers cannot be sustained.

And so we seek a change that’s so modest that it really isn’t a change at all. In fact, all we seek is to keep the current interpretation of the 1999 law intact. That interpretation, by the state’s Department of Management Services, recognizes that ever-increasing benefits are simply not feasible. Instead, they correctly ruled that the growth in the insurance premium tax dollars should be used to help fund and stabilize current pension benefits.

That makes sense.

But in an attempt to forge a compromise, some in the Florida Senate want to change the law in a way that will actually attach even more strings than the old interpretation. The bill, SB 458, would impose another pension funding mandate on local city taxpayers while providing no relief from the current mandate to perpetually provide extra retirement benefits to police officers or firefighters.

We are seeking a common-sense solution that says these monies will be used to help stabilize and fund these pension benefits, but without the extra strings attached. This makes sense because municipal taxpayers simply cannot afford the never-ending cycle of ever-increasing benefits.

The unions won the battle in 1999 — and they won big. However, their victory has sent municipal pension costs soaring to unsustainable limits. It’s now time to balance the equation and help save municipal taxpayers money by restoring some level of sanity to local city pension benefits.

It’s a request that makes sense for everyone from the firefighters and police officers to the local taxpayers who have to pay for those benefits.

Manuel Maroño, mayor, Sweetwater and president, Florida League of Cities

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