Monday, January 31, 2011

Retirement changes may mean less pay for government workers

It may not technically mean a pay cut, but police officers, teachers and other public employees in Florida may see their paychecks shrink under proposed changes to the state's retirement system being bandied about in Tallahassee.

The bottom line is the employees are likely to be required to help pay for their retirement pensions, as Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature figure out how to balance a state budget that is starting out about $5 billion in the red.

The Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau reports:
One proposal would require employees to contribute 5 percent of their salaries to the pension plan, saving the state $1.3 billion. For a state worker making $50,000 a year and receiving 9 percent of his salary in annual retirement benefits, the change would mean he or she would pay $2,000 after taxes in retirement fees and the state would pay $2,000.

Florida is the last state not to require employees to contribute to their own pension, while some states offer free retirement to only a limited class of workers.

Scott believes Florida's free retirement program is ``unfair to taxpayers'' working in the private sector.

Legislative leaders have also suggested that it's time to end the more expensive defined benefit program, which guarantees workers a fixed benefit upon retirement. The state could save millions, they say, by steering employees into a ``defined contribution'' retirement program, which allow employees to control the investment options but doesn't guarantee them a fixed benefit upon retirement -- similar to 401(k) plans in the private sector.

``This isn't a discussion about a flaw in the Florida Retirement System. This is about balancing the budget,'' said Doug Martin, the legislative director with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

He argued that the state has already saved money by having no pay increases since 2006.

Scott and lawmakers are considering other options for saving money as well. Some want to raise the retirement age for new hires, others suggest capping the amount the state contributes to the pension fund and, if the fund's investments don't raise enough to pay for the expected benefits, employee contributions would make up the difference.

Scott acknowledges that teachers, police and other government workers may consider this a pay cut, but he believes it is needed to build up the reserves in the state retirement system and level the playing field between public and private sector jobs.

``I believe what's most important to them is they want to have a pension plan that they know will be there when they retire and that's what my focus is,'' Scott said last week. ``At the same time, I have to be fair to the taxpayers of the state.''

The Legislature is also to blame for some municipal pension problems. In years when revenue was flush, lawmakers frequently raised the local government contribution rate for workers in politically influential unions, such as police and fire.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Buchanan reacts to congresswoman's shooting

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan posted on his Facebook page an initial reaction to the shooting of his colleague, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz.:
Words cannot express the pain and sorrow I feel re: the senseless shooting of my colleague, Rep. Giffords, and members of her staff.
Buchanan and Giffords were both first elected to the U.S. House in 2006.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Buchanan: It's time for a balanced budget amendment to Constitution

 A member of the majority party for the first time in his congressional career, U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan has proposed a constitutional amendment that would require a balanced federal budget.

It is the first piece of legislation Buchanan filed during the 112th Congress, which took office Wednesday.

“Wasteful spending is threatening our future and will unfairly burden our children and grandchildren with debt that is not their own,” Buchanan said in a statement. “A constitutional amendment will force Congress to make the tough choices necessary to balance the budget for taxpayers today and for future generations.”

Buchanan said the 111th Congress added more to the national debt than the first 100 Congresses combined.

“We don’t have a revenue problem,” said Buchanan, R-Sarasota, the only member from Florida on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. “We have a spending problem. Each year, billions of taxpayer dollars are spent on waste, fraud, and abuse. A balanced budget amendment would force lawmakers to take a hard look at the programs they are funding and hold federal agencies accountable.”

Buchanan said his bill would balance the budget by 2016 by requiring:
  • A 3/5 vote for any increases in the debt.
  • That the President submit a balanced budget to Congress. 
  • That any legislation to increase revenue must be passed by a true majority of each chamber – not just a majority of those present and voting.
Exceptions to these provisions are provided in times of military conflicts and natural disasters.

"Forty-nine out of 50 states, including Florida, have balanced budget requirements," Buchanan said. "Cities, counties, and states all routinely balance their budgets and so should the federal government. A balanced budget amendment is a common sense measure that will save taxpayer dollars and help ensure financial security of our kids and our kid’s kids.”

Monday, January 3, 2011

Buchanan to chair Panama caucus

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, has been named chairman of the congressional Friends of Panama Caucus.

Buchanan said  he will focus his efforts on creating Florida jobs and enhancing the ability of Port Manatee to capitalize on the expansion of the Panama Canal.

“Jobs and the economy are the most important issue,” said Buchanan in a press release. “As the chairman of the Friends of Panama Caucus, I will work to create Florida jobs by promoting new trade opportunities and positioning Port Manatee to benefit from the expansion of the Panama Canal.”

Port Manatee is the closet deepwater port to the Panama Canal, which is scheduled to double its capacity by 2014. Last year, Buchanan traveled to Panama with the Panamanian Ambassador to the United States, Jaime Eduardo Aleman, and hosted the Ambassador at Port Manatee. In Panama, he met with the President of Panama, Ricardo Martinelli, and business leaders.

Buchanan is working for congressional ratification of  the U.S.-Panama Trade Promotion Agreement. Panama is the United States' 56th largest trading partner with $4.7 billion in goods traded between the two countries during 2009. U.S. exports to Panama totaled $4.4 billion compared with $304 million worth of imports resulting in a $4.1 trade surplus.

Buchanan first became a member of the Caucus in 2009.