The Broward Teachers Union expressed disappoinment in the Florida Supreme Court ruling that upheld the 3-percent income tax levied on public employees in the state.
In a 4-3 decision, the justices overturned a circuit court ruling that said the Florida Legislature overstepped its authority by ignoring the Florida Constitution in taking 3 percent from the paychecks of Florida’s teachers, law enforcement officers, firefighters, nurses and other public employees. Legislative leaders and Gov. Rick Scott called the tax a “contribution” to the Florida Retirement System, but the money has been used to balance the state budget this year and last year.
This is disappointing news for public employees such as police officers, firefighters, emergency response personnel and teachers who work to make Florida a better place. Balancing the state budget on the backs of middle-class working families is the wrong approach for legislative leaders and the governor to take, according to John Ristow, spokesperson for the Broward Teachers Union.
We’re disappointed that the state’s highest court said this approach was legal. We believe our arguments were correct, even if the justices didn’t agree. We still believe that Florida’s public employees were promised a non-contributory retirement when they were hired and this promise should stand. We are more determined than ever to change the face of the Florida Legislature. The next elections in 2014 can turn this decision around. Leaders in the Legislature have been squirreling away money in the state’s reserve funds in the event that the Supreme Court ruled in our favor. That money should now go to Florida’s seriously underfunded public schools. Legislators and Gov. Rick Scott need to get to work and address the budget shortfall the right way: by closing tax loopholes and repealing some of the multibillion dollar tax giveaways for corporations and millionaires that they have passed over the last decade. None of these loopholes help the vast majority of Floridians and hurt our state’s residents by depriving them of much needed public services through cut backs, according to Ristow.
Legislative leaders have a number of avenues that they can use to address any budget shortfall – such as closing sales-tax loopholes, aggressively collecting sales tax on Internet sales, or repealing the tax giveaways for investors and corporations. Those tax giveaways were widely touted as ways to create jobs and grow the state’s economy, but after billions and billions of dollars’ worth of tax giveaways over the past 14 years under Republican leadership, Florida has one of the highest unemployment rates and its economy is one of the weakest in the nation. These salary cuts – essentially an income tax levied only on workers belonging to the Florida Retirement System – compound the losses experienced by teachers and other public school employees. Over the past four years, they have seen no raises or minuscule raises, increased health insurance costs and layoffs, according to Ristow.
The stark budget cuts pushed by Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature will only deepen those losses. The additional loss of 3 percent of their salary only exacerbates the financial hardships currently experienced by the state’s middle class. The leaders in the Legislature chose this irresponsible and reckless and way of balancing the budget instead of properly addressing the shortfall they created. Over the past decade, the Legislature has chosen to provide tax giveaways to investors and corporations that have accumulated to billions and billions of dollars. If those tax giveaways had not been enacted, there would have been no budget shortfall. This ruling emphasizes that we cannot rely on the courts to do the right thing for public education or for public workers. We must become more politically active to assure that the leaders who represent Floridians in the Legislature and the Governor’s Office represent all the people, not just corporate interests, according to Ristow.