What's it going to take to get City Council to drop the wasteful and rightfully controversial deferred-retirement program for municipal workers known as DROP?

Apparently, that won't happen - if it happens at all - until after Philadelphia primary-election voters have gone to the polls on May 17.

By any rational measure, the Deferred Retirement Option Plan is a loser. Annually it costs the city millions of dollars that come out of taxpayers' pockets, while providing City Hall retirees with six-figure lump-sum payouts on top of already generous pensions.

There's little evidence that DROP has helped the city plan better for the retirement of key staffers. And for a few incumbent elected officials who seek reelection after signing up to retire, DROP has become a path to a big payday - one day's retirement, then a return to the city payroll.

For good reason, Mayor Nutter has proposed killing DROP. Consultants he hired calculated that over an 11-year period the program has cost the city $22 million a year. A competing Council study also showed the program was wasteful, although at a lower rate of about $9 million annually.

Yet, there are no signs that Council members plan to tackle the issue any time soon, with Council President Anna C. Verna last week saying only that she was "looking into" the issue of scheduling hearings.

With current Council officeholders reluctant to grapple with the issue, it's disappointing to see so many Council candidates also kowtowing to the public-employee unions by endorsing the continuation of the DROP benefit for nonelected workers in some form or another.

Of course, city union leaders love a program that offers their members hefty lump-sum payments. But that's hardly affordable, given the underfunding crisis that threatens the viability of the city's pension system itself.

Given the city's Democratic registration edge, the May primary likely will shape the next Council - which will include at least five new members. So, city voters deserve to know where both incumbents and Council hopefuls stand.

As candidate forums are staged, like those sponsored this week by the Committee of Seventy in the First and Seventh Councilmanic Districts, voters should demand Council candidates take the fiscally prudent stand to end the pension DROP initiative.

This special retirement perk cannot be fixed by tinkering. Voter anger over elected officials being able to enroll in DROP should translate into Council action to end the program for all city workers.