A Florida circuit court ruled last week that Gov. Rick
Scott (R) and Republican legislative leaders' decision last year to cut public
employee salaries to offset the state's contribution to their pension fund was
an unconstitutional breach of contract.
"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," Leon County Circuit Court Judge Jackie
Fulford stated in her ruling. The three percent cut to public employees'
salaries without renegotiating their contracts was an "unconstitutional
taking of private property without full compensation" that violated the
employees' right "to collectively bargain over conditions of employment,"
The ruling blows a $1 billion hole in both the 2011-12 and 2012-13 state
budgets. It also puts local governments back on the hook for $600 million in
The Florida Education Association, which had filed the lawsuit challenging the
pay cut along with other state and local governments took the opportunity to
chide Scott and lawmakers.
"This was a gamble that the governor and legislature made last year,"
said Ron Meyer, an 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."
Senate President Mike Haridopolos (R), in turn, criticized Fulford.
"I think this is an example of judicial activism," he told
But Meyer countered that "judicial activism is when a court ignores the
law" and that Fulford, on the contrary, had based her ruling in part on a
1981 Florida Supreme Court decision which held that although the Legislature
had the authority to cut public employees' salaries, it could not breach a
contract it had with existing employees.
"This court cannot set aside its constitutional obligations because a
budget crisis exists in the State of Florida, Fulford stated. "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
Nonetheless Scott promised a "swift appeal" of the case, which has
already cost the state $500,000 in legal fees. (MIAMI HERALD)
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