JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The push for public pension reform has taken center stage in the Florida Supreme Court.
The high court held a hearing on Friday to consider the lawsuit filed by five of the state’s largest unions, including the Florida Education Association.
“Quite frankly, I think it’s the Legislature’s responsibility to fund our pension system,” said Duval County School Board member Tommy Hazouri.
In 2011, the state began requiring public employees in the Florida Retirement System to contribute three percent of their salaries to cover part of the cost.
A Leon County judge earlier this year ruled the changes violated contract and collective bargaining rights. The state appealed the ruling.
Hazouri hopes the top court will uphold the lower court’s decision and side with the unions because he believes the state’s reform is a contract violation.
“Shame on the state for raiding the funds the way they do,” he said.
Justices hearing the case Friday questioned the ruling and they suggested legislators have the right to make decisions to help balance the state budget.
If the ruling is upheld it could cost the state $2 billion.
Action News learned locally it could cost the Duval County School District about $18 million a year.
“Worst-case scenario ,could there be layoffs or cuts?,” Action News asked.
“Yes, but I don't want to provide that kind of conjecture. That is an option if we have to pay, but there are other budget cuts you can look at,” Hazouri replied.
Hazouri feels if the court does uphold the ruling it would require the state to fund it.
On Friday, Governor Rick Scott released this statement regarding the case:
“This case is about our efforts to maintain a responsible and sustainable budget for the State of Florida. In 2011, the Legislature passed, and I signed, common-sense public pension reform, which requires public employees – like private-sector employees throughout Florida – to contribute to their retirement plans. Prior to this reform, Florida was one of only three states that did not require public employees to contribute to their pensions.
“The legal question in the case is straightforward. The Legislature relied on and carefully followed a thirty-year-old Florida Supreme Court case, which held that the Legislature can change the public pension system on a going-forward basis. We therefore expect the Supreme Court to follow its own prior decision."
No timetable for a ruling by the Florida Supreme Court has been set.
(AP contributed to this report)