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FL Pensions in the Cross-hairs

January 25, 2011

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - A Florida union leader hopes to debunk what he sees as myths about the state's public pensions system that are being circulated by some legislators.

Legislative leaders have made no secret that they are considering radical changes to the system in the upcoming session. However, Rich Templin, Florida AFL-CIO legislative and political director, says his organization has researched pensions carefully and brought in independent experts to look into what he calls some of the myths surrounding the issue.

Some legislators claim Florida's public pension plans are underfunded and unsustainable, but Templin says municipal pensions actually are funded at 76 percent and the Florida Retirement System is funded at 87 percent.

"Both of those are very strong, actuarially sound and well within the limits of what constitutes a safe, secure stable sustainable pension system."

Some legislators also claim that public pensions are lavish and cost too many tax dollars to local and state governments. Templin says Florida's spending on public pensions is well below the national average, with the average worker making between $16,000 and $23,000 a year in benefits.

Templin points out that retirees generate income to local economies. There are nearly 2 million people in the public sector in Florida, he says, and most of them retire here. He says studies show retirees generate $1.40 for every dollar they spend in the local economy.

"Who finishes a career in Florida, then moves up to New Jersey? This is where people come to retire. You are looking at a major hit to Florida's local economies, at a time when we can least afford it, when they talk about cutting the pension system and reducing payouts to retirees."

Templin says Florida's pension program has been cited as a national example of a well-run plan, and legislators should look to increasing revenue through other means rather than what he calls "raiding the pension fund."

Glen Gardner, Public News Service - FL