This article posted by Mary Ellen Klas, deserves to be re-posted and here it is, just in case you do not read the Miami Herald! The appeal by Governor Rick Scott, is going to cost us another $300,000.00 added to the original $500,000.00 that was spent by Florida Legislation to defend the original lawsuit filed. We are a couple of cups of coffee away from rounding out the 1 Million dollar mark for Governor Rick Scott and we will never see that money again…Stay tuned!
By Mary Ellen Klas
Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau
TALLAHASSEE — In a dramatic defeat for the governor and the Florida Legislature, a Leon County court judge on Tuesday ruled that the decision last year to cut public employee salaries was an unconstitutional breach of the state’s contract and ordered the money returned with interest.
The ruling leaves a $1 billion budget hole in the state budget for the 2011-12 budget year and another $1 billion hole for the 2012-13 budget year. It also has a $600 million impact on county governments whose employees are in the Florida Retirement System.
“The 2011 Legislature, when faced with a budget shortfall, turned to the employees of the State of Florida and ignored the contractual rights given to them by the Legislature in 1974,’’ wrote Circuit Court Judge Jackie Fulford, who also relied on a 1981 state Supreme Court ruling favoring public employees.
She said the Legislature’s decision to cut public employee salaries three percent, without renegotiating their contracts, was an “unconstitutional taking of private property without full compensation” that violated the rights of public employees “to collectively bargain over conditions of employment.”
The governor and Republican legislative leaders cut salaries three percent, eliminated cost of living adjustments, or COLAs, and shifted savings into the general revenue fund to offset the state’s contribution to their retirement account. The change saved the state $1 billion during the 2011 legislative session and saved local governments $600 million.
Gov. Rick Scott blasted the ruling and said he would pursue a “swift appeal” of the decision so that it has no affect on the current budget. The state has already spent $500,000 defending against the lawsuit and has entered into a contract for another $300,000 for the appeal.
“As you would expect, I believe this decision is simply wrong,’’ Scott said in a statement. He accused Fulford of ignoring “thirty years of Supreme Court precedent” and called it “another example of a court substituting its own policy preferences for those of the Legislature.”
The Florida Education Association and other state and local government unions challenged Scott and lawmakers, cuts to existing benefits for the 560,000 state and local employees now in the Florida Retirement System needed to be negotiated in collective bargaining talks.
“This was a gamble that the governor and legislature made last year,’’ said Ron Meyer, attorney for the FEA. “They gambled taxpayer’s money that they could balance the budget on the backs of the hardworking employees of this state. They lost that bet today.”
Lawyers for the House and Senate refused to comment on the ruling, but Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, was critical of Fulford and vowed to continue the legal battle.
“I think this is an example of judicial activism, and this is why we are immediately going to appeal this decision,” Haridopolos told reporters late Tuesday.
Meyer disagreed. He said “judicial activism is when a court ignores the law” and noted that the judge referred to a 1981 decision by the Florida Supreme Court, which ruled that while the Legislature could cut employee salaries, it could not breach the current contract it has with existing employees.
“This court cannot set aside its constitutional obligations because a budget crisis exists in the State of Florida,’’ Fulford wrote. “…To find otherwise would mean that a contract with our state government has no meaning, and that the citizens of our state can place no trust in the work of our Legislature.”
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