The roots of Florida’s pension redesign can be traced back to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
Florida lawmakers continue to debate over whether to close the Florida Retirement System (FRS) to new employees and move them into 401(k)-type plans. The Florida House has passed a bill that would end guaranteed pensions for new public employees starting next year – and require them to enter a defined contribution plan.
The Palm Beach Post reports that two years ago, about two dozen Florida lawmakers gathered for a conference hosted by ALEC in New Orleans. ALEC’s policy director told the newspaper the three-day meeting held in 2011 helped to affirm the need among legislators to examine public employee benefits in the state.
There are about 623,000 government workers and 335,000 retirees enrolled in the current Florida pension system.
The effective date of the changes to the FRS was moved from January 1, to July 1, 2014. It also increases the vesting period for new hires in the pension plan from eight years to 10 years of service and reduces the employee contribution rate for members of the defined contribution from 3 percent to 2 percent.
Other groups that are aggressively pushing cash balance plans that would end defined benefit pensions include the Pew Foundation and the John and Laura Arnold Foundation.
The spotlight on ALEC continues to grow in Florida, especially in the aftermath of the controversial “Stand Your Ground” laws that put the organization in the hot seat, causing major corporations to flee from intense public scrutiny.
ALEC, a Washington, DC-based politically ultra-conservative non-profit, thrives on operating in the shadows of American government to push anti-worker, anti-union legislation in statehouses across the country.
ALEC sponsors private meetings allowing state lawmakers and corporate executives to frame legislation that is later introduced in state legislatures. The laws tilt in the favor of big business. ALEC has pushed legislation that has been harmful to fire fighters’ right to collectively bargain and has also proposed other anti-union policies.
ALEC’s success has been its ability to operate in secret and to gain access to legislators while providing an anonymous cover for its corporate sponsors to press their agenda. The organization continues to remain a threat because it pushes model legislation in all 50 states.
Founded in 1973, ALEC supports free market principles and courts financial support from various foundations, including those controlled by the billionaire Koch Brothers.