Television ads sponsored by a conservative group bankrolled by the Koch brothers and blasting three Florida Republican state senators for votes on public pension changes, among other issues, have sparked a war of words with liberal groups.
The Florida chapter of Americans for Prosperity, which is funded in large part by the billionaire brothers whose fortune comes from Koch Industries, this week announced it was launching a “campaign to educate” voters in three districts. The senators targeted are Charles Dean of Inverness, Nancy Detert of Venice and Greg Evers of Baker.
“These three senators voted to give taxpayer-funded handouts to billionaires, opposed giving parents the power to turn around failing schools, and voted to kill common-sense reform of the antiquated Florida pension plan – reforms that would have protected and honored the contracts of everyone currently in the system while protecting Florida’s taxpayers moving forward,” said the chapter’s state director, Slade O’Brien, in a statement.
On the other side of the political spectrum, the National Public Pension Coalition, which works with a national and state network to protect public retirement systems, decried the attack on public pensions in Florida and the nation in general.
“There’s a broad ideological attack by these right wing groups,” said Jordan Marks, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based group. “The Florida pension system is sustainable. It shows how ideological these attacks are and the Koch brothers are a great example of that.”
Marks noted pension payments to Florida state workers are relatively small and they do not receive Social Security. The Florida pension system covers 900,000 current employees and retirees.
Americans for Prosperity, which describes itself as conservative, but non-partisan, is mounting its campaign after a major pension reform effort was defeated in the state Senate in May. The bill pushed by the House Speaker Will Weatherford, a Republican, would have closed the state employee pension plan to future hires and replaced it with a system similar to 401(k) accounts. Weatherford said he would try to pass the changes in 2014.
In August, Florida said its pension fund had added $9.65 billion to its bottom line and was 86 percent funded, which is higher than most other such plans. Proponents of changes to the system say the $500 million that must be paid into the system to cover future unfunded liabilities could be better spent on other projects.