By MICHAEL VAN SICKLER,Times/Herald Tallahassee BureauTALLAHASSEE ? Few issues would seem to score higher among conservatives than public pension reform.
Shrinking the defined benefits that public employees receive and steering them into private retirement plans has long been championed by groups such as the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the James Madison Institute and Americans for Prosperity, founded by billionaire libertarians David and Charles Koch.
But as Tuesday’s Florida Senate Appropriations Committee meeting showed, pension reform is hardly a conservative litmus test. A bill that would make significant changes to the state’s $135 billion pension system barely survived by a narrow 10-8 vote, with three Republicans joining Democrats in opposition.”One of the things that concerns me is the continued effort to change the Florida retirement system,” said Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who voted against the measure. “I’m tired of scaring our (state and school) employees every year, and hammering at them, and threatening the one thing they have.”Latvala, like senators such as Greg Evers of Baker and Charlie Dean of Inverness, possesses staunch conservative bona fides and also represents many government workers who depend on the pension for retirement.These legislators consistently side with constituents who claim that the defined-benefit pension system should be left alone.But that view collides with the ambitions of Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel. In his two years as the leader of the lower chamber, Weatherford has made pension reform a priority, playing to a conservative base that believes the pension system eventually will bankrupt the state.Last year, the Senate defeated a much more radical overhaul of the system in a 22-18 vote. This year, as Weatherford’s influence as outgoing speaker wanes, senators have seemed even less receptive, with Evers declaring last month that it would snow in Miami before reform passed.http://newsok.com/pension-reform-divides-gop/article/feed/677711