DROP: The never-ending story

    Philadelphia City Council took decisive action on several matters, including tax hikes, before adjourning for the summer last week. But the fate of the city’s Deferred Retirement Option Program, known as DROP, is decidedly unresolved.

    The widely reviled DROP program lets city employees pick a retirement date in advance, start putting pension payments in an interest-bearing account, and leave with a lump sum payout.

    Mayor Michael Nutter says the city can’t afford the program. Yet when City Council enacted a bill trimming benefits and costs, he vetoed it.

    “This program needs to go away, completely,” Nutter said in announcing the move. “No cost is acceptable. So I’m not going to sign a bill that just has a little less cost that we can’t completely estimate.”

    So Nutter has taken a firm stand, insisting on the abolition of DROP. He was asked what he thinks might make members change their minds.

    “Maybe they’ll get tired of hearing the voices of the public who are asking them to end this particular program,” the mayor said. “Maybe they’ll get tired of having less service in their community. Maybe they’ll get tired of more and more money being diverted to our pension fund as opposed to providing high-quality services.”

    If the current council doesn’t budge, a new one will be sworn in come January, with at least six new members.

    Councilman Jim Kenney, who voted with Nutter and against most of his colleagues to abolish DROP, described Nutter’s chances of success with the new council as “pretty remote.”

    While public anger over DROP contributed to the defeat of one council incumbent and the retirement of three others, many candidates were elected who support keeping the program in some form.

    Kenney said if the mayor looks at what incoming members have said about DROP, he won’t find a lot of votes to count on.

    “Besides lonely old me, I don’t know where he’s going to get his votes to eliminate it,” Kenney said.

    Council members could override Nutter’s veto of their bill modifying DROP. Or they could let it stand, leaving the city with a more costly program than if Nutter had simply signed the measure.

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