Florida Legislature Starts Tuesday

Well, since DH and I are both FL state employees, I thought I'd share the reason for our dour mood for the next 2 months. The FL legislature starts hacking away at a budget plan, trying to take away what little money we make, and cut our free medical insurance benefit, and rid us of our pension plans. HERE'S an interesting article by Bill Cotterell, also pasted below if you don't want to go to the link.
Bill Cotterell: State workers face a rough 60 daysDo you ever feel like people are talking about you?
Not the paranoid who goes to a football game and thinks the players are whispering about him in the huddle or the prickly defensiveness of George Costanza on the old "Seinfeld" show. It's just that sometimes we have an entirely reasonable expectation that we, or whatever we're doing, might be drawing a little more attention than we'd like.
Well, if you're a state employee, your antennae should be abuzz in the next 60 days. Florida legislators are convening the 2010 Session Tuesday, and they have to close a gap, estimated as high as $3 billion, between state revenues and expenses.
Tax increases are out, this being an election year, so there's no realistic hope of new revenues. That leaves expenses to be cut and, this being an election year, there's no more politically popular place to start than with the government payroll.  Some Republican women in the House and Senate got things started last week. Rep. Marlene O'Toole of Lady Lake and Debbie Mayfield of Vero Beach proposed making all state employees pay for health insurance. They said taxpayers could save about $56 million if all employees, from the governor to the Selected Exempt workers, paid $50 a month for single coverage or $180 for family insurance.  There's a major fairness problem with that. About half of the estimated 35,000 employees now getting paid-up health insurance were moved out of Career Service by ex-Gov. Jeb Bush's "Service First" initiatives in 2001 and reclassified into the Selected Exempt Service. The deal was, they gave up Career Service job security and got "free" insurance in return — whether they wanted that deal or not. If they're going to pay premiums now, it would seem that fairness dictates they be moved back to Career Service. The trouble with that is, it's the positions that were reclassified, not the people, so you couldn't logically extend Career Service protection to some SES employees — the ones who were moved in 2001 — and not all of them.  And besides, nothing is forever. If an SES employee took the job in 2006, knowing paid-up insurance was a perk, there was no guarantee that it would be ever thus. Times change, and so do budgets. Also, if the $25,000-a-year administrative assistant in Career Service can pay for insurance, it's hard to say the six-figure judges and department heads shouldn't. Legislators and their staff would be included in the everybody-pays bill.  Politically, for legislators who go back home and run for re-election this summer, it's impossible to justify free insurance for any state employees when constituents are struggling to make ends meet. Across the Capitol, Sen. Ronda Storms of Valrico has proposed a 5-percent pay cut for all employees earning more than $65,000 a year. Her bill includes a provision that employees taking the whack can't get bonuses to make up the cut. That seems like a taunt — "Hey, we're onto that old trick; don't cut your pay 5 percent, then give yourself a $3,250 promotion to break even."  The Storms bill could be a starting point. They could amend it up to $75,000 or $80,000 or lower the cut to 3 percent or 2 percent — or, for that matter, make it 10 percent and drop the threshold to $35,000. Senate Bill 2282 just gets the discussion going. Last year's budget called for a 2-percent pay cut for employees earning more than $45,000 a year. Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed that, but, all things considered, state workers shouldn't count on the governor riding to the rescue again. He didn't propose any layoffs, pay cuts or furloughs in the budget he sent to the Legislature on Jan. 29. But House and Senate committees treated the governor's recommendations as just a starting point — more like a kid's wish list sent to Santa — and lawmakers will send him their own priorities by May Day.  Downstairs, meanwhile, the lady who would be governor has proposed thinning the herd in middle management. Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink figures her agency has about five frontline workers for every manager, and she wants to widen that ratio to about 7-to-1. Spread through all the state agencies, Sink figures, such a standard would save the government nearly $300 million. Her plan doesn't require legislative action and would be accomplished by not replacing SES and Senior Managers when they leave and reorganizing some functions under fewer bosses. But it shows the belt-tightening attitude prevalent in the Capitol in this recession-stricken election year. Speaking of which, that's another active idea down here in Florida — cutting from the budget any authorized positions that have been vacant six months. Never mind that the reason these jobs stay vacant so long is that you can't find qualified people at the salaries the state is willing to pay. State employment is not exactly the scapegoat of budget cuts. With revenue and politics being what they are, the cuts are inevitable and layoffs are looming. Don't take it personally, legislators seem to be saying. It's just a natural consequence of the times.

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