While there is lots of talk about changing Medicaid, there is a growing sense of inevitability of where state lawmakers will try to wring a large amount of savings when they craft the 2010-11 state budget. And that's from state workers.
Senate President Jeff Atwater in an interview last week couldn't have been more blunt. Layoffs of state workers he said is "unavoidable." And Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, made it clear that retooling health insurance benefits and even retirement accounts is also a distinct possibility.
Atwater said that he cannot justify protecting state employees while other businesses throughout the state are shedding workers and trimming costs.
"They have changed their health plans for their fellow employees, they have had layoffs that tragically became necessary to keep the business afloat, they have furloughed employees, they have reduced wages, they have moved from the strip center back to their garage and the back bedroom to survive,'' he said. "If our orientation is that I should be preserving something here uniquely and differently than what my fellow Floridians have had to do to keep their own small business afloat, I have missed the correct orientation of my job.''
When Gov. Charlie Crist rolled out his budget proposal he made it clear that he did not think it was the "right time" to either cut state salaries or force state employees to pay more for their own health insurance, or even require the roughly 27,000 who pay no health insurance premiums to pay something.
That sentiment so far does not appear to be shared by the GOP-controlled Legislature. The political reality could be that it's easy to go after state employees because in the counties with the highest concentration of workers - except Miami-Dade - those areas lean heavily Democratic.
But it may have just as much to do with budget reality. Republicans have made it clear that they will not entertain tax increases during an election year. Federal stimulus money requirements mean that legislators can't slash expenses easily in places such as Medicaid or even school funding.
Last week the main Senate budget panel heard about how costs in the state health insurance plan are growing at 10 percent a year. That's significant since the state is expected to spend $1.8 billion on health insurance for state workers and university employees during the current budget year. Only an estimated $157 million of that will come from state worker premiums.
But it may not just be health insurance that legislators turn to. They may also force state workers to contribute to their retirement accounts.
Up until 1975 state employees did pay into the pension plan known as the Florida Retirement System. That year legislators opted against a pay raise - but wiped out the contribution requirement - a move that boosted the take home money in paychecks.
Forcing state workers to pay 1 percent of their salary toward their pension would generate an estimated $72 million a year.
Florida pays its employees on average less than employees in such states as Alabama, Louisiana, Kentucky and North Carolina, according to a presentation made earlier this month by the Department of Management Services to the Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee. But that same analysis showed that other states like Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana also require their workers to contribute anywhere from 1.25 percent to 7.5 percent to their retirement accounts. Tennessee does not charge employees, while Arkansas charges nothing for employees hired before 2005 but five percent for those hired after July 2005.