Stu Bykofsky: When did DROP benefit become an entitlement?

Posted: June 09, 2011

CITIZENS OF Philadelphia! Hear ye, hear ye!

Your City Council has listened to you - and ignored you. By its 15-2 vote yesterday, Council proclaimed it would rather have DROP than your respect.

After allowing about a dozen people to testify, during which Council members were uncharacteristically benign (almost as if the vote had been predecided but they had to keep up appearances, like a spinster wearing kidskin gloves outside while eating cat food inside) the august Council voted to amend and improve the detested Deferred Retirement Option Plan. (The above italics denote sarcasm. I shouldn't use the word "diddle" because editors think it has a sexual connotation.)

Quick admission: DROP is not detested by eligible city workers, for whom the lump-sum payoffs are a pot o' gold. It is detested only by the rest of us, not because we are mean, but because DROP costs the cash-strapped city money (which it doesn't have) - and it isn't even necessary. It is a perk piled on top of an already generous pension.

When Zack Stalberg, president of the Committee of Seventy, spoke against DROP, he was loudly booed by union members in the ornate Council chamber. But the boos could not deny reality when he said that such a perk could not exist "in the real, nongovernmental world today."

I am by nature and intellect on the side of the working class, but not the shirking class. Those coveting the DROP Powerball payout must understand what a punch in the gut it is for the rest of us.

The only two Council members voting against the proposed fix did so for different reasons.

Short-tempered Jim Kenney voted "no" because he wants the whole plan to go away. (This will cost him some union votes in November.)

Softhearted Jannie Blackwell voted "no" because she doesn't like the changes, which would not treat all union workers the same.

How Council plans to diddle with the diseased DROP program is discussed elsewhere. Those fixes can fairly be described as putting lipstick on a pig's butt, and some changes will probably face court challenges. Somehow - and this is shot through the modern American psyche - what started as a benefit has morphed into an entitlement.

Although the goal of the fix-it patch is to make DROP cost-neutral (as it was designed to be, but never was), it must have been embarrassing for Council to hear its own actuarial consultant, Thomas Lowman, doubt that it would be cost-neutral. I guess we won't be hearing him testify again.

But Council will be hearing from us in the general election. Set your alarm clocks for Nov. 8.

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