DROP program perhaps on chopping block

Posted by Max Reiss – bio | email

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) – Alabama's DROP program is under serious scrutiny in the state legislature.

Republicans have made repealing the state's Deferred Retirement Option Program a top priority.

"There may be some benefits to keeping seasoned state employees yet in these distressed economic times those benefits are greatly outweighed by the financial burden these programs place on state agencies" said Rep. Barry Mask, (R – Elmore) who is sponsoring the legislation.

But to those who have been earning interest on their DROP like Steven Bailey don't think getting rid of the program is a bad idea.

Bailey said, "The DROP has kind of been a saving grace for teachers and something to look forward to and on a personal note I'm approaching the DROP program, 53 years old and fixing to have 30 years of service in so it's going to affect me."

After working for more than 30 years in Alabama public schools, Bailey is now three years away from collecting his DROP lump sum.

Rep. Mask contends that program, though positive in nature, is not the sort of benefit the state should bank-rolling when the state is running a deficit.

"I think now all of us would agree the time has come to end this program to end this program in its current format and end enrollment" Mask said.

According to the Legislative Fiscal Office, the non-partisan financial information service for the legislature, the DROP program costs the state roughly $46 million in the Teachers Retirement System and $12 million in the Employee Retirement System.

During his state of the State of the State address, Governor Robert Bentley urged lawmakers to repeal the program, citing its high cost.

Instituted in 2002, the program was initially designed to hold on to experienced state workers rather than having them retire immediately and collect the retirement fund.

Bailey, who now works for the Alabama High School Athletic Association said his biggest fear is losing polished teachers and coaches.

"We're going to force early retirement for a lot of experienced coaches and teachers out there and my concern is that they're going to go elsewhere either to neighboring states or into private business.

If passed by lawmakers, the repeal would take effect April 1, which would be the final day for new enrollment.

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