Riley is prepared to ask for the special session immediately after the state legislature’s 2004 regular session kicks off February 3. However, Riley insists the emphasis on cost control would be aimed at the future, not cutting back on benefits currently promised to state employees, according to an Associated Press report.
The idea floated by the governor mirrors earlier recommendations made by the Business Council of Alabama. Of primary concern to Riley is the state’s Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP). DROP gives teachers and state employees who are at least 55 years old and have at least 25 years experience a lump-sum bonus if they agree to work an extra three to five years before retiring. There are 3,138 teachers and other public education employees and 915 state employees participating in the deferred retirement program, according to the state retirement systems.
Simply put, Riley does not think Alabama can, nor should, pay full retirement benefits for educators after only 25 years of work. “Based on economic conditions in the state today, can you afford to have 25-year retirement? Can you afford for someone to get continuing medical benefits after working for 10 years? Those are the kinds of reforms that would dramatically change our state and our ability to be competitive for decades,” Riley told the Associated Press.
Other the other side of the aisle, some high profile Alabama policymakers have lined up to voice their opposition. Alabama Education Association Executive Secretary Paul Hubbert told the Associated Press, “If the purpose of a special session is to fund government and schools on the backs of employees and teachers, it would be a mistake to have a session. We are willing to talk about all those issues, but not in isolation.”
David Bronner, the chief executive officer (CEO) of the Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA), says the governor’s pension proposals could launch a war among retirees and state employees, a war Bronner says Riley would loose (See Bronner Thinks AL Governor Pension Proposals Are Bad News ).
Prior to Bronner’s comments,Mac McArthur, executive director of the Alabama State Employees Association told the Birmingham News that it would be “a hell of a fight” if Riley were to suggest phasing out DROP when the legislature kicks off its 2004 session (SeeAL Workers Vow War if DROP Dropped).
Riley is considering such a move due to the price tag the program carries – estimated at $26 million annually when the program was approved in 2002. Thus, Riley thinks the program has become prohibitively expensive with the number of high-paid employees taking advantage of it. In addition, Riley saidAlabama’s expenditures for public employees’ health benefits and for the Medicaid program for the poor and elderly are growing by $250 million annually.