The Palm Beach Post

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  • Two Major Florida Newspapers Ignore ALEC Connection In Pension Coverage

    Blog ››› ››› SALVATORE COLLELUORI

    The Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times failed to connect the American Legislative Exchange Council model legislation to the current efforts to change the pension plans of Floridians.

    Ashley Lopez of the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting highlighted a piece in The Palm Beach Post that had a lengthy description of ALEC's role in the process to overhaul the state's pension system:

    Critics trace the campaign back two years -- to New Orleans, where dozens of Florida lawmakers gathered for a conference hosted by a controversial advocacy group that helps corporations and conservative interest groups write bills for legislatures across the country.

    Jonathan Williams, a policy director for the American Legislative Exchange Council, told The Palm Beach Post that the organization's three days of meetings in August 2011 helped affirm the need among many legislators to take a hard look at public employee benefits.

    "The momentum for pension reform is stronger today because many governments are still seeing the effects of the recession on investment returns," Williams said. "It's going to be a long time before things improve. Florida legislators are aware of this."

    While the Post made the link to ALEC clear, neither The Miami Herald nor the Tampa Bay Times made the connection in any of the pieces they wrote on pensions.

    Currently, the Florida pension fund is 87 percent funded. Employees already contribute 3 percent of their paychecks to the pension fund and have the option to enroll in a 401(k)-style defined-contribution plan. However, under the Florida House version of the bill to change the plan, new employees would be forced to enroll in a 401(k)-style defined-contribution pension plan instead of the current defined-benefit plan that has more than 500,000 state workers enrolled. However, in the Senate version, new employees would be automatically enrolled in the new defined-contribution 401(k)-style plan unless they request to be in the current defined-benefit plan that most pensioners use.