Municipal pension measure gets tangled up in committee

Feb 13, 2012

The following article was published in the Florida Current on February 13, 2012: 

Municipal pension measure gets tangled up in committee

By Travis Pillow

The plot thickened on Monday for a measure affecting local pensions after a Senate panel killed an amendment backed by police unions.

SB 2088 would fix a glitch in a measure approved last session intended to stop police and firefighters from inflating their pensions through “spiking.”

It would also give the cities more flexibility in negotiating retirement benefits with police and firefighter unions, but Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, tabled it after a divided Senate Community Affairs Committee declined an amendment removing those provisions.

Under current law, if cities negotiate benefits for police and firefighters below 1999 levels, they have to give up revenue from a tax on insurance premiums, though that interpretation of the statute is disputed by the Florida League of Cities.

The language Ring tried to remove would have allowed municipalities to keep receiving the revenue as long as police and firefighter unions agreed to any changes in benefits. Ring moved to postpone the committee vote after the amendment, supported by the Police Benevolent Association and the Fraternal Order of Police, went down on a 4-4 vote.

The unions wanted the language removed because it would take away a financial penalty for local governments that lower benefits below what they offered in 1999. Cities are seeking the changes to help them grapple with budget shortfalls and underfunded pensions.

Complicating matters, a measure advancing in both the Senate and the House is similar to Ring’s bill, except it would remove a provision setting a 300-hour “floor,” below which local governments cannot limit the amount of overtime used to calculate pension benefits for police and firefighters. Ring’s bill would require any limit lower than 300 hours to be aggreed to in collective bargaining.

Both measures are intended to clarify a measure passed last session intended to curb the practice of workers “spiking” their pension benefits by working large amounts of overtime before the retire. 

The Senate version of the alternative, SB 910 by Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, is set to come before the Government Oversight and Accountability Committee, which Ring chairs.

Ring said the chamber’s leadership would have to help sort out which measure would prevail in the Senate.

“We have to address this issue this year,” he said of the spiking glitch. “How is still up in the air.”

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