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FL Public Worker Pensions: A Battle Royal Rages

April 20, 2011

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - The verbal war over public-worker pensions is fueling political debate at the state Capitol.
Republicans are seeking to privatize the state pension fund, while 650,000 Florida civil servants say their pension fund is one of the best in the country and are asking why it should be changed.

Barbara Wilmarth, a teacher from Pasco County, says she knows why.

"I really think they are trying to put money in their own investment firms' CEOs' pocket."

Florida teachers say this is the same proposal the national GOP made during the Bush administration when it wanted to turn Social Security into a private 401(k) savings plan. Social Security privatization got a national thumbs down, the Florida Education Association points out, and applying the same ideas at the state level is the new Republican strategy.

The principal backers of public pension privatization are Florida's new governor, Rick Scott, and a pro-business think tank, the James Madison Institute, where Robert McClure is a spokesman.

"So, what we want to see is a moving away from defined-benefit plans and a moving toward 401(k)-style individual personal retirement plans."

Florida voters may be hearing the outcries from teachers, firefighters and law-enforcement officers. A Public Policy Poll published last week puts Scott's popularity at 32 percent 100 days into his term.

Les Coleman, Public News Service - FL