TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ The Legislature's power of the purse trumps public employees' state constitutional right to collective bargaining, a former Florida Supreme Court justice argues in papers filed with his colleagues.
Ex-Justice Raoul Cantero filed the brief Monday on behalf of Republican Gov. Rick Scott and other state officials. They are appealing a Tallahassee trial judge's ruling that struck down a new requirement for workers to contribute 3 percent of their pay to the $126 billion Florida Retirement System.
The GOP-controlled Legislature passed the law sought by Scott last year without submitting the issue to collective bargaining. The law affects state and county workers, teachers and some municipal employees.
“The Legislature's decision to modify the FRS system was fully within its prerogatives because the right of public employees to collective bargaining does not override the Legislature's appropriations power,'' Cantero wrote.
He argued that power lets lawmakers establish “terms of employment such as workers compensation, drug testing, minimum qualifications, benefits and employee rights, to name a few.''
A federal judge in April blocked Scott's attempt to impose random drug testing on state workers for an unrelated reason _ violating the U.S. Constitution's ban on unreasonable government searches. The Legislature also put the drug testing requirement into law but enforcement is on hold pending an appeal in the executive order case.
Public employee unions that challenged the retirement law have until June 28 to respond. Oral argument is set for Sept. 5.
A union lawyer did not immediately respond to a telephone message seeking comment Tuesday.
The budgetary authority argument was one of several Cantero made in his brief. It is one of several high-profile cases Cantero has handled, including redistricting and school funding for the Florida Senate, since resigning from the high court in 2008. He also is chairman of Justice Barbara Pariente's campaign for retention to the Supreme Court on the November ballot.
Cantero contended Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford exceeded her jurisdiction by ordering the State Board of Administration and Department of Management Services to reimburse wages withheld from all 600,000 members of the retirement system although most are not parties to the lawsuit. Scott heads the board and the department is under his control.
The suit was filed by 23 individual employees and five unions, led by the Florida Education Association, which represents teachers.
Cantero also contended the law has not violated public employee bargaining rights, noting local transit and police unions bargained with Escambia County commissioners in Pensacola to obtain a 3.1 percent pay raise after it was passed to offset the retirement contributions.
He further argued the judge's order is impractical and infringes on local government authority because it would in effect require Scott to bargain with dozens of state and local unions.
The brief contends Fulford also erred by finding the law violates employees' contract and property rights.
In her decision, Fulford wrote that upholding the law “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 Legislature.''
Union contracts do not have a provision for the employee contributions. The influx of new money has been used to reduce state and local government contributions to the pension fund rather than increase its assets. Florida's system is considered to be on sound financial footing and one of the strongest systems of its kind in the nation.
Scott contends Florida's public employees should be required to contribute as a matter of fairness because nearly all other states and private employers who provide pension benefits require their workers to contribute. He's also expressed doubts about the future soundness of the retirement system.