Rather than confront Philadelphia's budget crisis, some City Council members seem more inclined to bellyache about efforts to rein in their lucrative pension perk known as DROP.
"I'm entitled to it," Council President Anna Verna said of the nearly $600,000 check she's in line to receive through the DROP program. That's on top of Verna's annual pension of about $130,000.
Councilwoman Marian Tasco also argued that her DROP payment of almost $500,000 is her money. She says Council members are being unfairly maligned for taking what is owed to them.
Here's where Verna, Tasco, and others on Council are not only wrong, but also extremely tone-deaf.
For starters, the DROP program was intended for city employees - not elected officials. Voters are supposed to decide when to "retire" an elected official, so there's no need for them to have the pension incentive.
Second, the DROP payment is supposed to come after you retire. But Councilwoman Joan Krajewski exploited a loophole that must be fixed before other elected officials slither through. After winning reelection last November, Krajewski retired for one day, collected her roughly $275,000 DROP check, and then was sworn in for another four-year term. This sleazy move in no way passes the smell test - even though former City Solicitor Romulo L. Diaz Jr. blessed the maneuver.
Last week, Committee of Seventy, the good-government organization, called on the current city solicitor, Shelley Smith, to close the loophole before others pull a Krajewski.
Four Council members in addition to Verna and Tasco are signed up to receive these approximate DROP sums: Frank DiCicco, $400,000; Jack Kelly, $300,000; Donna Reed Miller, $200,000; and Frank Rizzo, $200,000.
Rizzo says he plans to run for reelection, retire for a day if he wins, collect his DROP check, and then take office. Others won't disclose their plans. Voters outraged by the abuse of the pension perk should weigh the issue come election time.
DROP, short for Deferred Retirement Option Plan, was instituted in 1999 under then-Mayor Edward G. Rendell. The plan allows workers to select a retirement date four years in the future, freeze their pension benefit, and begin accruing payments into an account with a guaranteed interest rate of 4.5 percent. Upon retirement four years later, they get a lump-sum check.
A decade later, no one is even clear about the main intent of the program, let alone the costs or benefits to the city. Some say the plan was designed to retain good workers. Others say it was an incentive to encourage employees to retire early. Still others say it was designed to give departments time to find and train replacements for retirees. (In the private sector, most businesses manage to get through such a transition with a couple of weeks of notice.)
Mayor Nutter has called for a review of the DROP program. It's hard to make a good case for keeping it at all. At the very least, elected officials should be barred from DROP. The retirement loophole should be closed, and no one should be grandfathered in on that point.