March 6, 2012 Contact: Mark Pudlow, 850.201.3223 or 850.508.9756
TALLAHASSEE – Circuit Court Judge Jackie Fulford ruled today (March 6, 2012) in favor of the Florida Education Association in its lawsuit on public employees’ mandatory pension “contribution” and reminded Gov. Rick Scott and the extremists in charge of the Legislature that a promise is a promise.
Last year, the Florida Education Association filed a lawsuit seeking to stop the 3 percent tax on teachers, school employees and other workers imposed by the Florida Legislature and signed by Scott.
FEA President Andy Ford hailed the decision as a significant victory for public employees, but as importantly, for the rule of law in our society.
“The judge’s ruling confirms that the Florida Constitution requires the state to live up to its promises, including those made to the public workers by the state itself,” Ford said.
Florida law has provided for nearly four decades that pension rights are contractual rights that may not be ignored or abridged. If the Legislature determines that changes to the pension system are desirable, it must do so prospectively for employees who come to work after a change in the law. Employees should not dedicate their livelihoods to public service with a contractual expectation of retirement benefits only to have that expectation wrongly taken from them.
Ron Meyer, the lead attorney in bringing the challenge, argued to the court that there were three separate constitutional provisions that prohibit the state from taking away employees’ right to a non-contributory retirement system containing a cost-of-living provision. The court found that stripping workers of the contractually provided benefits constitutes an unlawful impairment of the obligations of contract, an action which is prohibited by the Constitution.
“We are pleased by today’s decision. It once again will stop the Florida Legislature from overstepping its authority by ignoring the state’s constitution,” Ford said. “We urge the governor and leaders in the Legislature to embrace this decision and abide by the judge’s ruling. If they decide to prolong this case with an appeal, FEA is prepared to continue fighting for the rights of middle-class families who make our state a better place.”
Last year, legislators made the choice to balance the budget on the backs of teachers, law-enforcement officers, firefighters, nurses and other public service workers so they could give corporations yet another round of tax giveaways.
Now the governor and legislative leaders need to “get to work” and address the budget shortfall the right way: by closing tax loopholes and repealing some of the multibillion dollar tax giveaways for corporations and billionaires that they have passed over the last decade.
The Florida Education Association is the state’s largest association of professional employees, with more than 140,000 members. FEA represents pre K-12 teachers, higher education faculty, educational support professionals, students at our colleges and universities preparing to become teachers and retired education employees.