Can Rick Scott's pension ideas get past GOP?

Mike Thomas

A lot of Republicans in Tallahassee probably are wishing Alex Sink won the election.

At least she understood the ground rules of what you can and can't do.

Scott is oblivious.

He is the first governor since the burning of Sodom and Gomorrah to take on the public-safety unions. He wants to cut spending not only by making cops and firefighters pay into their pension plans, but also by whittling down their benefits.

Scott obviously didn't get the memo from Republican headquarters. You can zing the teachers, bash the bureaucrats and demagogue the size of government.

But thou shall not mess with police and firefighters.

This is a bipartisan, time-honored tradition at all levels of government.

It is why we have one child-abuse investigator handling 50 cases and six firefighters handling one heart attack.

Now we will see if Republican legislators back up their new governor or run for the hills.

I am guessing the latter.

You scarcely see an election cycle go by without some Republican posed with police officers or firefighters. That is part of the Republican brand.


Pro-law and order.


Jeb Bush certainly understood this. The first bill he signed as governor sweetened police and firefighter pensions at the expense of city budgets — the kind of classic unfunded mandate Republicans profess to abhor.

Jeb's Republican instincts were tempered by his political instincts, much like Freud said your id is tempered by your superego.

As near I can tell, Scott is all id. Did you see him pull the commuter-rail contracts, the pet project of House Speaker Dean Cannon? You just don't do that to a fellow Republican who has a large say over your agenda.

Scott wants state workers to contribute to their pensions, something they haven't done in about 30 years.

Last year, despite the budgetary crisis, legislators were unwilling to make workers contribute just one quarter of 1 percent of their salaries toward their pensions. It was an election year.

Now Scott is demanding 20 times more than that — a 5 percent contribution. You can call it long overdue if you pay into your own pension plan, or you can call it a pay cut if you are a state employee who hasn't gotten a raise since 2006.

Scott also wants to phase out the annual 3 percent cost-of-living adjustments and defined pension plans, putting new employees in 401(k) plans.

These changes would affect all state employees. But then Scott goes further in reducing benefits for public-safety workers, changes that also would affect politicians and judges.

This has to do with the all-important accrual rate.

Public-safety workers get an accrual rate of 3 percent. So if a firefighter works for 25 years, he multiplies 3 percent times 25 and comes up with 75 percent.

So he can retire at 75 percent of his pay after working 25 years.

Scott wants to reduce the accrual rate to 2 percent. So after 25 years, the same firefighter would receive 50 percent of his salary.

Scott also would lower the accrual rate of politicians and judges. Right now, politicians get the same 3 percent as cops and firefighters, while judges get a whopping 3.3 percent.

Scott would cut these accrual rates to 1.6 percent. This is only fair, because it is what rank-and-file state workers get. A teacher who works 30 years retires at 48 percent of his salary.

Giving politicians a better deal than teachers is not defensible.

In addition, Scott would eliminate the infamous DROP program, which allows state employees to double dip by collecting pension benefits while still working. It is a scam that rips off taxpayers and thwarts the movement of new, young employees into government.

Many politicians have benefited from DROP, and legislators have balked at any meaningful reform.

This has put Republicans in a very sticky situation. There are 655,000 workers in the state pension fund. Judging by the traffic on our website Wednesday, they are following this story closely.

And I don't think state Senate President Mike Haridopolos wants to begin his campaign for the U.S. Senate by being burned in effigy in fire stations across Florida.

There will be a lot of pressure on Scott to back off from within his own party. But he already has backed off on immigration reform and probably will have to back off on tax cuts.

Keep on backing off, and soon people don't take you seriously. Just ask Charlie Crist.

Mike Thomas can be reached at 407-420-5525 or

More on Gov. Rick Scott:

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Gov.-elect Rick Scott eyes 'game-changing' education overhaul

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The Republicans have spoken: Rick Scott is unfit to be governor

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