House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, is pressing to change Florida’s retirement system, which he says is in trouble. He wants to phase out the pension plan by enrolling new state workers in a 401(k)-style investment plan.
He has called the $132 billion pension fund — one of the nation’s largest with 145,000 current and future beneficiaries — a “ticking time bomb” that will burden taxpayers down the road.
See, several years ago — before the financial meltdown — the pension fund was in the black. But the fund, which fluctuates in value depending on the market, took a big hit from the stock market and has not recovered.
For the past four years, there has been a gap between what the fund is worth and what it owes beneficiaries. Last year, that gap grew to $20 billion.
Democrats and advocates for public workers don’t see the pension as a problem in need of a solution. Florida’s pension fund, while underfunded at 86.9 percent, is above the national average of 75 percent.
They argue state workers have already been hurt by legislative remedies for the pension fund, such as the 2011 law that cut their salaries by 3 percent.
Rick Scott’s priorities
Scott named two priorities for the session: lower taxes on manufacturing equipment and a pay raise for teachers.
Scott wants to remove sales taxes on manufacturing equipment and machinery, which he says will allow Florida to attract more manufacturing jobs. He is also asking the Legislature to widen the exemption for businesses that pay the corporate income tax, from $50,000 to $70,000. PolitiFact Florida is tracking his campaign pledge to eliminate the corporate tax in seven years on our Scott-O-Meter, where it is rated In the Works.
Scott also called on the Legislature to give a $2,500 raise for every public school teacher — which seems at odds with the merit-pay policy he signed into law in 2011, his first bill.
When Scott rolled out his budget recommendations, he said his proposal “includes $10.7 billion in state funding for Florida K-12 schools, the highest state funding level in history.”
Scott was right on the state’s contribution, but he didn’t mention other sources of education funding. Total spending on Florida schools would still be short of where it was before the economic crash. We rated his claim Half True.