Court upholds changes to Florida's public pensions

After a long period as just one of three U.S. states which didn't require its public employees to contribute to their own pensions, the state Supreme Court has backed a major overhaul of its $120 billion state retirement system.

Late last week, the court ruled that Florida's sweeping changes - which call for workers to contribute 3 percent of their income to the system, as well as getting rid of cost-of-living increases for any future retirees - did not in fact violate workers' constitutional rights, Bloomberg reports.

Those controversial changes, endorsed by Republican Governor Rick Scott, are expected to save the state $1 billion and offset a significant budget shortfall - as well as saving local governments nearly $600 million. The court ruled in a 4-3 decision.

The suit had been launched on behalf of 11 employees who claimed that the increases essentially represented an illegal salary cut and also violated collective bargaining rights under pre-existing union contracts.

A Tallahassee judge initially sided with the plaintiffs in March, stating that the proposed changes were an "unconstitutional taking of private property without full compensation and an abridgement of the rights of public employees to collectively bargain over conditions of employment."

In an editorial in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, a glimpse of the sentiment behind the split decision by the state Supreme Court can be felt: "Public employees should receive good pay and benefits, but they should not be treated as a privileged political class, with job benefits that far exceed those available to most taxpayers with private-sector jobs."

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