After months of delays, City Council is finally set to hold hearings today on the much-maligned Deferred Retirement Option Plan -- otherwise known as DROP. We'll hear debate on Mayor Nutter's proposal to kill the retirement perk, as well as a Council plan to amend the program in an attempt to reduce costs.
Need a quick refresher course on DROP? Here's our primer on the program from today's paper.
2:05 -- Ok, Councilman Brian O'Neill introduces the police and fire amendment. It means they wouldn't have to wait two years to enter DROP, BUT they won't get the 4.5 percent interest rate guaranteed. So they're exempted from some, but not all of the changes.
2:02 -- Council President Verna is back and it sounds like this exemption for police and fire is a done deal. Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez said it wasn't perfect, but they had to move forward. "This is one of those not ideal, less ideal, let's get it done," she said.
1:55 -- Some members have trickled in, but Council is still not back in session.
1:41 -- Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. said he was supportive of exempting police and fire from any DROP changes because they don't get social security benefits and they both have arbitration awards. "There's a belief that there would be a lawsuit," he said.
1:17 -- Councilwoman Janie Blackwell said Council is looking at amending their DROP plan to exempt police and fire from any changes. "They already have their arbitration," she said. Asked if she would support exempting police and fire, but changing the program for non-uniform workers, Blackwell said, "I'll see what they come up with."
12:26 -- Council recessing until 1:30. Sources say they now may be looking at a way to exempt police and fire from any changes to the DROP.
12:22 -- Matthews, unsurprisingly, wants to keep DROP alive.
12:18 - Crowd is thining out and no one remains to testify, but Council is waiting on District Council 33 President Pete Matthews.
12:13 -- Firefighter Union President Bill Gault says that firefighters don't get social security or lifetime medical coverage. He says DROP helps cover health care bills. "All this is is a savings account," he says.
12:06 -- Fred Fisher, the retired city worker/conservative who appears at every public testimony opportunity, is up! He calls DROP "double-dipping." Council gives Fisher their usual total lack of interest. Then he gets personal. "This is one of the most shameful things in the city of Philadelphia. You people here who are supposed to make a decision. You're recipients," he says.
11:49 -- Man, Council is asking absolutely no questions of these witnesses, so they are just barrelling through the speakers. The next up is Chester Skaziak, a retired firefighter who took DROP. He says his monthly pension is $2,600. He also says the real problem is mismanagement of pension fund.
11:47 -- Republican Mayoral Candidate Karen Brown takes center stage. She says elected officials have made a mockery of DROP. "DROP means drop," she says. She says the program shouldn't be taken away from the workers because of elected official abuse.
11:42 -- Joseph Mahoney, executive vice president of the Greater Philadephia Chamber of Commerce, says it's unclear how much Council's plan will reduce costs because of the variable interest rate. He also notes the weak nature of the city pension fund. He says the chamber supports eliminating DROP.
11:37 -- We now have someone called Aaron Proctor who decribes himself as a taxpayer who doesn't work for the city. "I think police officers and fire fighters and people like that put their lives on the line. I think they're being screwed over by other people in DROP who are just pencil pushers....I feel this is the wrong thing for Philadephia."
11:20 -- Fraternal Order of Police President John McNesby says that "at least as far as the police department and police officers were concerned DROP works." He also slams "unsolicited advice from a bankrupt newspaper" on DROP.
11:15 -- Cathy Scott, president of District Council 47, which represents white-collar city workers is now testifying in defense of DROP. She says pensions are a negotiated benefit like wages and that the benefits are not taxpayer dollars. She also adds that workers have consistenly paid in to the pension fund, while the city has not. She says the anti-DROP efforts are a "relentless attack on city employees and defined benefits."
11:05 -- Boos greet Zack Stalberg, the president of the watchdog group Committee of Seventy, which has long opposed DROP. "The public hates the DROP program. It has become the symbol for arrogance and entitlement," Stalberg says.
11 -- Finance Director Rob Dubow is up. He argues in favor of killing DROP, saying that even Council's reform plan would not make the program cost-neutral. He says that given the weak funding level of the pension fund – which has just 47 percent of the assets needed to pay projected benefits – the city can't afford any form of DROP.
Keep refreshing this post throughout the day for our up to the minute updates on what's going on:
10:55 -- Now we're hearing from Thomas Lowman of Bolton Partners, Council's consultant. He notes that overall, DROP has been a cost for the city, which can be hard to understand. On Council's proposed changes, he says that they would not eliminate all costs of DROP. He says that permanently grandfathering in those who are currently DROP eligible would likely cost $25 to $35 million. But he notes that the mayor's proposal to kill DROP would also allow a window for DROP eligible employees to enter the program, which would still likely incur some costs.
10:50 -- Auerbach says that employees currently eligible for DROP as is -- those with ten years service who have reached retirement age -- will still be able to enroll in the current DROP even after changes.
10:49 -- Auerbach says Council's plan to revise DROP would deal with both those problems by delaying the age at which workers could enter the program and by adjusting the interest rate earned by participants.
10:45 -- Auerbach argues that DROP is not a "bonus" for workers, since it's just their pension payments being collected. But he acknowledges that DROP has become a cost for the city because it means that people are entering DROP earlier than they would have otherwise. He also notes the 4.5 interest rate guaranteed for DROP participants. Meanwhile, union supporters of DROP are crowing the chambers.
10:40 -- Rick Auerbach from City Council's technical staff is kicking things off with an testimony on why Council's proposal to revise DROP would reduce the program's costs. He is starting with a verrry detailed explainer on how DROP works. And Miller just arrived.
10:37 - Krajewski and Kelly just showed up.
10:34 -- And they're off. Council President Verna is here, along with a majority of the members. No sign of Council DROP participants Donna Reed Miller, Joan Krajewski, Jack Kelly or Frank DiCicco yet.
10:20 - Mayor Nutter has one thing to say to Council on DROP: "End the DROP program and support the bill I sent up."
9:40 - People are already showing up and asking to be added to speakers list.
9:30 - No one here from Council yet. The expected speakers list includes City Finance Director Rob Dubow, Council's pension consultant, leaders of several city unions and Committee of Seventy President Zack Stalberg. Yesterday's Rules Committee hearing dragged on for roughly six hours. Could this be as bad?