Florida high court hears arguments in pension contributions case

Rick Scott
“This case is about our efforts to maintain a responsible and sustainable budget for the state of Florida,” Gov. Rick Scott, who is an appellant in the case, said

Florida Supreme Court on Friday heard oral arguments in a case on whether a state law violates constitutional rights of state employees by requiring them to contribute 3% of pay to the $125.8 billion Florida Retirement System, Tallahassee, defined benefit plan and accept other pension changes.

“This case is about our efforts to maintain a responsible and sustainable budget for the state of Florida,” Gov. Rick Scott, who is an appellant in the case, said in a statement.

The pension law “requires public employees — like private-sector employees throughout Florida — to contribute to their retirement plans.” Mr. Scott added in the statement. “Prior to this reform, Florida was one of only three states that did not require public employees to contribute to their pensions.”

The appeal centers on a Florida Circuit Court ruling made in March that struck down the contribution changes, which were signed into law in May 2011.

The law would save $861 million annually in state contributions, according to a brief filed in June on behalf of the Florida Education Association.

“The legal question in the case is straightforward,” Mr. Scott added in the statement. “The Legislature relied on and carefully followed a 30-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.”

Raoul G. Cantero, partner with the law firm of White & Case, asked the Florida Supreme Court to reverse the ruling and uphold the pension law. He appeared on behalf of Mr. Scott; Jeff Atwater, Florida state CFO; and Pam Bondi, Florida state attorney general. The three make up the board of trustees of the Tallahassee-based Florida State Board of Administration, whose $154.8 billion in assets includes the Florida Retirement System.

Ronald G. Meyer, founding partner of law firm Meyer, Brooks, Demma and Blohm, appeared on behalf of the Florida Education Association, which represents elementary and secondary school teachers. The firm filed the original suit June 20, 2011, challenging the law.

John Lucas, spokesman for Ms. Bondi, and Alexis Lambert, spokeswomen for Mr. Atwater, couldn’t be reached for comment.

Messrs. Cantero and Meyer couldn’t be reached for comment.

Dennis D. MacKee, FSBA communications director, said officials wouldn’t comment on litigation.