Florida teachers fear pension reform will send them into poverty

3:49 PM, Mar 28, 2013   |    comments
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Tallahassee, Florida - Florida teachers say they are mobilizing against a proposal in the state Legislature to close the Florida Retirement System to new employees and move them into 401(k)-type plans.

Teachers say pension reform is unnecessary and threatens their retirement security.

The Florida House has passed a bill that would end guaranteed pensions for new public employees starting next year. Instead, they would enter a defined contribution plan.

House Speaker Will Weatherford argues Florida's pension program is broken and costs too much to sustain. He says it's time to bring government in line with the private sector and use 401(k)-type plans.

But Florida's teachers' union contends the state's retirement system is one of the strongest in the nation and offers reasonable benefits at a low cost to taxpayers.

Joanne McCall of the Florida Education Association says about half of Florida's 620,000 active FRS members are teachers and education staff professionals.

"After a lifetime of service to Florida communities, our teachers and education staff professionals shouldn't have to worry about retiring into poverty. Legislators need to leave the Florida Retirement System alone, let us teach and let us do what we do best."

Weatherford rejects that argument.

"It's just not true. Unions are going to use scare tactics. I'm not surprised that they're using them here. But if you go look at 85 to 90 percent of the companies in this country have transferred from defined benefit to defined contribution, this is happening. It's not something I came up with. The idea of a defined benefit plan long term doesn't work."

McCall says the proposed pension reform would lower the monthly retirement payment for new teachers from about $1,900 a month to $1,200 after 30 years of service.

The Senate version for pension reform would allow new employees to either enter the retirement system, or choose an investment account.

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