Our retirement program is on the griddle again. Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford is talking to reporters about "reforming" the retirement system by putting firefighters and police in one program and everyone else in another program. State Senator Jack Latvala described it as "...a separate and conquer strategy, obviously ... They take the groups that traditionally support Republicans and separate them from the other workers."
Here is what Latvala seems concerned about. Last year, Weatherford tried to get a law passed preventing new state and public employees from enrolling in Florida's defined benefits program in the Florida Retirement System. New employees would be required to enroll in 401(k)-like defined contributions programs. This would be a problem even for employees on defined contribution Optional Retirement Programs because the state contributions to all these programs are driven by actuarial requirements for the defined benefits program. If the defined benefits program is downgraded, state contributions to all programs will fall (that's a political reality) and employees will be stuck with smaller retirement benefits.
The Florida Education Association (the FEA, UFF's statewide affiliate) led the fight against the law last year, and it was voted down. Weatherford vowed that he would be back, and so he is. What Weatherford is saying to the press is that firefighters, police, and other Republican-leaning public employees would be in one program and everyone else would be in the other. This is a remarkable exercise in cynicism, even for Florida, for the following reason. A defined benefits program is like a tightrope walker: it keeps its balance by moving forward. If new employees are dissuaded or prevented from joining, its ability to support retirees may be compromised.
What Weatherford is proposing is handing Republican-leaning state and public employees a sabotaged retirement program while forcing Democratic-leaning state and public employees into a less beneficial program. Democrats are stabbed in the chest while Republicans are stabbed in the back.
This is a fight that the FEA can win, but once again, the FEA will need the support of its locals, like UFF, its members, including members of the UFF, and the support of non-members, who are free to express their views to their state legislators. Stay tuned.
Meanwhile, one way to support the FEA's effort to educate legislators is to join UFF: Download, fill in, and mail the membership form. And speaking of retirement, here's a reminder. In 2011, Governor Scott came up with a proposal to cut the state contribution to the retirement system and requiring state and public employees pay 8 % of their salary to retirement. The FEA led the fight against that, and by the time the proposal reached the legislature, the employee contribution was 5 %. The FEA continued to fight, and the law was passed at 3 %. That's 3 % too much – 3 % more than was in the compensation package pre-2011 employees signed for – but FEA saved all UFF USF employees five times as much as UFF's dues.
Program cuts at USF
Another round of program suspensions and terminations for USF appear to be on the drawing board.
The USF Board of Trustees does much of its business through four "workgroups": the Academics and Campus Environment (ACE) workgroup, the Finance and Audit workgroup, the Health workgroup, and the Research, Innovation, Engagement, and Job Creation workgroup. The ACE workgroup oversees academic programs, which includes suspending and terminating programs.
The agenda for the February 13 meeting of the workgroup included a presentation by Provost Ralph Wilcox on a Recommendation to terminate and/or suspend Degree Programs across the USF System.
Since the summary of the meeting has not been posted yet, we do not know what the workgroup recommended. But just looking at the slides posted, we can see:
The ACE workgroup recommendations made February 13 are scheduled to be presented to the USF Board of Trustees on March 6, and then the Florida Board of Governors on March 7.
- From Slide 2, these recommendations arise from "a regular cycle of systematic, annual review of low-productivity / low-demand degree programs," with the goals of aligning the programs with the Strategic Plan, eliminating duplicative programs, and aligning with "market need and demand."
- From Slide 3, the proposal is now at Stage 3, so whatever recommendations the ACE workgroup has made will now be forwarded to the Board of Trustees, whose next meeting is on Thursday, March 6, on USF Tampa, in the MSC Ballroom.
- From Slide 6, we see that during 2011 - 2013, sixteen programs from USF Lakeland were terminated, five from USF Tampa were terminated (in Art Teacher Education, Drama and Dance Teacher Education, General Engineering and Playwriting and Screenwriting), and one from USF Tampa was suspended (Geography).
- Slides 10 and 11 list proposed suspensions and terminations. There are six programs from USF Tampa slated foor suspension, 26 programs from USF Tampa slated for termination (including two from Arts & Sciences, two from the Arts, four from Business, ten from Education, five from Engineering, and one from Honors) and three programs from USF St. Petersburg slated for termination. There is nothing about how these programs were performing, nor which ones would be simply eliminated and which ones would be merged with other programs.