Published: Mar 11, 2011 6:44 PM EST
Updated: Mar 11, 2011 3:48 PM EST

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - The Florida Senate may be on a collision course with Gov. Rick Scott and the House over how much public employees should contribute to their pensions.

Scott wants more than 570,000 state employees, teachers and local government workers, who currently do not pay into the Florida Retirement System, to contribute 5 percent of their wages.

A Senate committee on Thursday, though, voted to require contributions only from those making more than $40,000. That would exempt nearly 75 percent of state workers, according to the Department of Management Services.

The bill (SB 1130) would require only 2 percent contributions from workers making $40,000 to $75,000 and 4 percent for those who bring home more than $75,000.

"Unlike the governor, this bill does not balance the budget on the backs of state workers," said Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey.

Scott's proposal is in a House bill (HB 1405) that has yet to receive a committee hearing. It would amount to a 5 percent pay cut for public employees, although state workers have gone without an across-the-board raise for five years.

The Florida Retirement System is one of the nation's strongest public pension plans. Scott, though, says requiring employee contributions is a matter of fairness because most private sector employees must contribute to their pension plans, if they even have one.

Scott also sees the contributions as a new government revenue source.

His budget proposal recommends that the employee contributions be used to free up taxpayer contributions so they can fund other things such as education and tax breaks he's proposed for businesses and property owners.

The Senate Government Oversight and Accountability Committee voted 12-1 for its bill. That's more than half of the 21 votes it'll need for passage in the 40-member Senate. The bill next goes to the Budget Committee.

"We tried our hardest and our best not to demonize state workers," said the panel's chairman, Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate. "This committee does not believe state workers are the enemy."

The Senate bill also would continue the Deferred Retirement Option Plan, or DROP, that allows public employees who retire to return to work while collecting both a salary and pension benefits after sitting out at least six months. Scott has proposed abolishing the program.

The legislation also would leave unchanged higher leave annual accrual rates for police, firefighters and other high-risk employees. Scott has proposed reducing them to the level of other public employees.

The governor's proposals have drawn opposition from police, teachers, other public employees and their unions as well as sheriffs.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)