Thursday, May 1, 2014

Thank you, Senator Latvala, for saving the Florida Retirement System


If you work for the State of Florida, or its school system, or one of many counties, cities, or special districts like a water management district, you should send a note of thanks to Senator Jack Latvala.  Why?  Because he stopped both the Speaker of the Florida House, Will Weatherford, and Senate President, Don Gaetz, (and the puppeteers at the Florida Chamber of Commerce) from ending the pension programs now offered to public workers by these organizations.  It takes courage and a strong belief in what’s right to buck the current power structure and do what he did for you, and he should be thanked.
In short, Weatherford wanted to dismantle the state’s defined benefit program of which you are likely a current member in favor of having you gamble that the stock market will provide a retirement stipend for you.  They’re view is that if the private sector employees do it this way, why not public employees?  Here’s what’s wrong with that idea:
  • Private employees always have the potential to generate substantial personal wealth.  They can self employ, they can become real estate magnates, they can become used car sales giants, they can sell stocks and bonds.  But the public employee will never become wealthy through public service.  Their pay will always be at the bottom tier and they will never be able to build a nest egg substantial enough to support themselves after they can no longer work. Their commitment is to public service not themselves.  It is only fitting that after a career of what amounts to personal sacrifice, in return, the public might provide them with a reasonable, defined pension when they retire and can no longer serve.
  • Suggesting that the average public employee will be sophisticated enough to be able to grow a pitiful monthly investment in the stock market to any size is a ruse and a fraud.  It simply will not happen.  The complexities of stock and bond investing are legendary and many investor geniuses have lost fortunes trying to make it work for them.  It is also unrealistic to think that such small investment amounts would ever amount enough in size to generate dividends adequate to live on.  If invested conservatively, this would most certainly be the case, and if invested in high risk arenas, it would likely just be lost entirely.
  • The only true reason the Tallahassee manipulators want public employees investing in the stock market is because, collectively, it would generate a huge windfall of other people’s money from which the stock and bond brokers and similar Wall Street shysters could suck fees. As it stands now, the retirement funds of public workers are managed by professional money managers who spend their working lives growing and protecting huge pension fund amounts.  They negotiate that protection and growth from positions of strength and professional training as managers of billions of dollars, not $50 a month.
  • The Weatherford people in Tallahassee would also have you believe that the current retirement program could bankrupt the state.  The kernel of truth in this claim is so small that the real truth is that it’s a lie.  Studies have consistently shown that the Florida Retirement System is one of the most well managed and healthy public retirement systems in the country and that the only way it could fail is if 86% of all state employees were to retire at the same time.  It would have to be a kind of “zombie apocalypse,” as described by Senator Darren Soto (D-Orlando), and simply too remote to be even theoretically possible.
What ultimately happened in Tallahassee is that Weatherly couldn’t get enough support for the bill from his House and Gaetz couldn’t get much from the Senate either, even though Senator Wilton Simpson tried to water it down to make it less objectionable.  The last try was a legislative maneuver by Gaetz that would have brought the proposal to the Senate floor were it not for the good Senator, Jack Latvala, who objected and pointed out that it would be a breach of Senate rules.  That’s where it died.  Thanks, Senator.

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