TALLAHASSEE, Fla., March 7 (UPI) -- A Florida decision last year to cut public employee salaries was an unconstitutional breach of the state's contract, a judge has ruled.
Leon County Circuit Court Judge Jackie Fulford ordered the state to repay the amount salaries were cut with interest, leaving a $1 billion budget shortfall for the 2011-12 budget year and another $1 billion for the following year, The Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times reported.
"The 2011 Legislature, when faced with a budget shortfall, turned to the employees of the state of Florida and ignored the contractual rights given to them by the Legislature in 1974,'' Fulford wrote. She also cited a 1981 state Supreme Court ruling favoring public employees.
Fulford said the Legislature's decision to cut public employee salaries 3 percent, without renegotiating their contracts, amounted to an "unconstitutional taking of private property without full compensation" that violated the rights of public employees "to collectively bargain over conditions of employment."
Gov. Rick Scott said the state would appeal the decision.
"As you would expect, I believe this decision is simply wrong,'' Scott said in a statement.
He said Fulford had ignored "30 years of Supreme Court precedent" and called it "another example of a court substituting its own policy preferences for those of the Legislature."
The Florida Education Association and other state and local government unions had challenged Scott and lawmakers.
"This was a gamble that the governor and Legislature made last year,'' said Ron Meyer, an attorney for the FEA. "They gambled taxpayer's money that they could balance the budget on the backs of the hardworking employees of this state. They lost that bet today."