State Politics

Challenges facing Fla. retirement system

By GRACE GAGLIANO

ggagliano@bradenton.com

Holmes Beach resident Len Tabicman was elected chairman of the State Commission for the Florida Retirement System earlier this year. As chairman of the five-member board, Tabicman will travel across the state to conduct hearings with those in the Florida Retirement System who have either lost benefits or are petitioning for benefits. The Bradenton Herald caught up with Tabicman, who is a retired school psychologist and a licensed mental health counselor, to talk to him about his goals for the state commission, as well as some of the pending legislation regarding the Florida Retirement System.

What are some of the most pressing issues facing the Florida Retirement System this year?

I think the issues are financial in terms of if there will be enough money in the long run. There is a lot of disparity between what people get; for example, you get 1.6 percent (of your salary) a year if you’re a teacher, and you get 3 percent a year for all the years worked if you were an in-the-line-of-duty job. What that equates to is if you worked as a police officer for 33 and a-third years, you can retire with 100 percent of your salary. Some are upset because when you get Social Security on top of that they’re getting more than they would have ever made working.

The system itself is in extremely good shape compared to other states, but again, with the financial down swing, everyone is looking at where money can be saved.

What are your goals as chairman of the State Commission for the Florida Retirement System?

We just need to take care of the cases that are presented to us. There was a big backlog for roughly nine months. We have an entirely new board, so we’re all looking to catch up on pending cases of which there are a few.

You mentioned you conduct hearings from those who have lost benefits or are petitioning for benefits; what are some of the issues with those cases?

Disability. The laws for obtaining disability in the Florida Retirement System are different from getting, let’s say, Social Security disability or other disability.

And it’s much more difficult because you have to show you are permanently disabled from securing any job. A lot of people have the misconception of what disability is and understanding what our rules and regulations are.

What are your thoughts on Senate Bill 2022, which would require employees to pay into the Florida Retirement System by paying one quarter of 1 percent of their salaries?

We’re getting a lot of calls about a lot of the proposed changes. We have input into the general running of the (Florida Retirement) system, but we don’t have a lot of power.

My personal feeling, and not that of the commission, is that I think there needs to be some changes made in the Florida retirement law. I think the people coming in now should pay a portion of their retirement.

House Bill 5701 looks at eliminating the health insurance subsidy for retired state workers. (The subsidy provides state workers with $5 for each year’s service to put toward their health insurance with up to $150 a month)?

I think that’s a grave error because that’s set money people were counting on. When you retire and you look at the amount of money you’re going to receive, you budget accordingly.

To just arbitrarily take away $150 a month which is $1,800 a year for most, that’s worth a lot more to someone who is retired and counting on that money.

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