TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - A law championed by Gov. Rick Scott that requires teachers, state and county workers and some municipal employees to contribute 3 percent of their pay to the state's pension plan was narrowly upheld by the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday.
The 4-3 decision reversed a trial judge's ruling that the law violated the collective bargaining, contract and property rights of about 600,000 public employees including police, firefighters and other first-responders.
The law, which went into effect on July 1, 2011, also repealed 3 percent annual cost of living increases for benefits accrued after that date.
The ruling was vindication for the Republican governor who had sought an even bigger 5 percent employee contribution and the GOP-controlled Legislature. The decision was a bitter defeat for public employee unions, led by the Florida Education Association, which had challenged the law.
"The court's ruling today supports our efforts to lower the cost of living for Florida families," Scott said in a statement. "This means even more businesses will locate and grow in our state."
Scott argued it was unfair that Florida's public employees didn't contribute because workers in most other states and the private sector are required to help pay for their pensions if they still have that benefit.
The public employees' contributions, though, were not used to strengthen the Florida Retirement System, already one of the nation's strongest pension plans. Instead, they reduced contributions made by state and local government employers.
"Balancing the state budget on the backs of middle-class working families is the wrong approach," teachers union president Andy Ford said in a statement.
A ruling against the contribution law would have created a nearly $2 billion budget gap for state and local governments because they then would have had to return the employee contributions.
"We still believe that a promise is a promise," Ford said. "We are more determined than ever to change the face of the Florida Legislature. The next elections in 2014 can turn this decision around."