Gerry Hilgenberg: Public employees again in Legislature's firing line
Published: Saturday, April 13, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, April 11, 2013 at 11:06 p.m.
I am among the thousands of public employees in Alachua County and surrounding areas affected by changes being considered in the Legislature to the Florida Retirement System.
We're employees of the school district, the University of Florida, Santa Fe College and other public agencies. We're firefighters, law enforcement officers, school bus drivers and nurses. We like to think we're a big part of providing the quality of life all of us enjoy here in Florida.
Two years ago we were asked to give up 3 percent of our pay to fund the Florida Retirement System, even though the money didn't go to the FRS, but to other state spending. Cost-of-living adjustments were taken away that same year by the Legislature, which also made it harder to qualify for a pension for our public service.
Now public employees are in the firing line again from a Legislature that seems to never run out of ideas about how to disrespect public workers.
This year the attack comes in the form of changes to the FRS pension fund, which provides a modest monthly paycheck — although an important one to many of us — after our work years are over.
The Legislature wants to disrupt a retirement system that's worked well for decades. It would deny all new public employees the opportunity to earn a pension, and force them instead into a cheaper 401(k)-style account that produces much lower retirement savings than provided by a pension.
Sponsors of FRS bills in both the Senate and the House claim that their changes will not affect current public workers. But that's of little comfort to us based on past experiences.
Once new money into the pension fund from new hires stops flowing, the plan is messed up. It doesn't earn as much from its investments. The shortfall will have to be made up somehow. The only two sources for the money are taxpayers, who would pay higher retirement contributions for each worker, or from current workers themselves.
We'll be at risk of seeing our expected benefits reduced or our 3 percent contribution to retirement increased to 4 percent, or 5 percent or whatever the Legislature thought best in its wisdom.
The Florida Retirement System is in good shape. There's no reason to change it and do further damage to public workers.
We should give our legislators this simple message: Don't mess with the FRS.
Gerry Hilgenberg works in Alachua County and is a participant in the FRS.