Mark Twain said no one's life, liberty, or property was safe while the legislature was in session. But now the session is over, and we can look over what they wreaked - er, did. And were stopped from - er, didn't.
Of Retirement, Apples, and Oranges
This is a tale for political junkies.
During the last four years, the Governor and the Legislature waged war on state and public employees, and one of their targets is our retirement funds. Officially, the state shifted about a third of the cost (3 % of our salaries) onto us; in reality, the shift is nearly twice that (5 % and rising). This year, House Speaker Will Weatherford announced plans to undermine the Florida Retirement System (and, en route, cut support for the Optional Retirement Plans others of us rely on). The Florida Education Association (FEA) responded by warning against "legislation intended to further degrade retirement benefits."
The FEA spent a lot of time this legislative session educating legislators, and eventually Weatherford's bill was in deep trouble. So he tied his bill to another one, one that seemed sure to pass. That didn't work, and both bills died. So ... what was this other bill?
Not all Florida public employees are covered by the Florida Retirement System: some are covered by county and municipal retirement programs. Some counties and cities are doing a good job; some are ... apparently not. In 2011, the Leroy Collins Institute issued a Report Card on Florida Municipal Plans and handed out D's and F's to 37 % of the plans reviewed. Among the plans getting F's (i.e., were not 60 % funded) were Fort Myers General and Police, Jacksonville's Correctional and Police / Fire, Miami's General and Sanitation, Plant City's Police / Fire, and Temple Terrace's Police. (Both Tampa and St. Petersburg got A's for their General and Police plans.)
After some finger-pointing and politicking, a compromise fix appeared, supported by the League of Cities: Senate Bill 246, ultimately accompanied by House Bill 7179. Weatherford tied his bill to HB 7179 and both bills died.
This fall, legislators will plan for next session. They may plan for reforming state and municipal plans. They may plan for reforming the Florida Retirement System. We will be watching.
About Those Monkeys
In the Veni, Vidi, Vici letter from our Bargaining Team, there was a link to a You-tube video on Capuchin monkeys reject unequal pay, a clip from Frans de Waal's TED Talk on Moral behavior in animals. The clip showed two Capuchin monkeys, one of whom was rewarded for a task with a grape, while the other was rewarded for the same task with ... a cucumber slice. If you want to see what happened, click here.
Frans de Waal is the Charles Howard Chandler Professor of Primate Behavior at Emory University, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. He became famous because of his studies of power relationships among chimpanzees. (He became controversial for advancing the notion that chimpanzees deliberately deceive other chimpanzees.) But after studying chimpanzee conflict resolution, he got interested in other aspects of social behavior. Including the effect of inequality.
De Waal argues that there are two "pillars of morality": reciprocity (and hence fairness) and empathy (and hence compassion). He concedes that morality has "evolved" beyond these two pillars, but he claims that by looking at our fellow primates, we can see where morality as a psychological phenomenon begins.