Pam Bondi Is Right About Raises for State Employees
Around the State
Attorney General Pam Bondi's impassioned stand last week against turning Florida's $334 million mortgage-fraud settlement into raises for state employees was nothing less than heroic.
“This money is to help consumers in the foreclosure crisis,” she said. “This money ... will not be used for pay raises if I have anything to do with it ....”
Bondi has everything to do with it. According to an agreement finalized in April, the $334 million the nation's five largest banks allocated for Florida is meant to be administered by the attorney general.
Not the Legislature. Not the governor. Just the attorney general.
The conditions of the settlement are these: that the $334 million be used 1) to help avoid preventable foreclosures, 2) lessen the effects of the foreclosure crisis, and 3) strengthen law enforcement against financial fraud. The larger of Florida's $8.4 billion share comes straight from the banks and will go directly to borrowers mostly in the form of loan modifications.
What an opportunity to do something positive, something for the Florida economy, for the housing crisis in the state, where 11 percent of all inventoried homes are in foreclosure right now. That's the contribution Bondi wants and, frankly, is obligated to make by her signature on the agreement.
The attorney general's hangup has been the Legislature, where leaders maintain that the state Constitution gives the Florida House and Senate the sole power to decide how money will be spent. The staffs of all parties involved have been meeting to work out a solution.
Want to see why Bondi knows she's in for a fight? To see what's happened in other states, have a look at the attachment below, "Billion Dollar Bait & Switch: States Divert Foreclosure Deal Funds."
Which is precisely where Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, comes in. Vasilinda has proposed that the $334 million be used to give state employees a 7 percent raise. “We have the lowest paid work force among the states. We have the leanest state work force among the 50 states, and that comes in a state that’s extremely complex," Vasilinda told WFSU.
No wonder Vasilinda's plan for such a big chunk of the money has Bondi strapping on the armor. Vasilinda -- minority party though her membership -- represents the largest constituency of government workers in Florida. Her friends and contributors are unions and trial lawyers. Even though she doesn't need the campaign boost, a sympathetic push for a piece of the mortgage-settlement pie for "underpaid" state employees -- well, that wins a lot of points from her peeps.
But it's a bad idea. A very, very bad idea.
In the first place, the agreement stipulates that the money must be used, however loosely, for housing programs.
In the second place -- and more important to the 105,000-or-so state work force -- $334 million is a lot of money, but it is not enough to sustain a pay raise. The mortgage foreclosure money is a windfall. A one-time deal. A never-to-be-repeated -- or so one would hope -- consequence of greed and bad fiscal stewardship.
If times got worse before they got better and the money ran out -- if there were no finding a way to pay the state personnel bill -- jobs up and down the Sunshine State would be deleted like spam from an inbox. Vasilinda's idea is good theatrics but bad economics.
Bondi has a list of ideas of her own for using the money. It involves hiring counselors to help people keep their homes; and funding legal assistance for civil matters just as 23 other states do. In fact, the Legislature liked this idea last year well enough to fund it to the tune of $2 million, but the governor vetoed it. Here's a chance for lawmakers to get what they wanted then and thought they couldn't have.
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or (850) 727-0859.