The real issue with DROP double-dipping

In the last six weeks, longtime St. Petersburg Times reporter Lucy Morgan has reported on what she calls double-dipping, or public employees who returned to work after committing to the state’s DROP program that gave experienced public employees an incentive to retire (retire, be paid for working another five years after the eligibility for the program started, and have pensions for that work-time go into a secure account for that last chunk of time working). Morgan’s language of double-dipping and triple-dipping implies that the problem with the DROP program is that the rules aren’t very strict on returning to employment after retirement.

The real problem with the DROP program is that the state legislature thought it could be clever, operating government on the cheap and discounting the value of experienced public servants. First, the legislature thought it could dangle an incentive in front of experienced public employees, get them to retire, and replace them with much cheaper, younger workers. Then, the legislature discovered that there was a shortage of people willing to teach and do other important jobs because they were taking early retirement through DROP, so they created an exception for areas with documented shortages. Then the legislature expanded those exceptions.

And now Lucy Morgan is pointing out that a program designed to operate government on the cheap is costing the state in the long run.

From a union standpoint, there are a few concerns with Morgan’s story. One is the substantive and scandalous examples, such as Miami-Dade College president Eduardo Padron, who is technically retired with a $14,631 monthly pension but returned to work for an annual $328,860 salary on top of the pension. That’s the hook Morgan uses, and those few cases are clearly scandalous.

But in many cases, as with the retired faculty at USF who are offered a pittance to teach as adjuncts after they finish DROP, it’s not as though paying a Distinguished University Professor emeritus $2000 a semester is a public boondoggle. I’m not sure how to view administrative DROP returns: on the one hand, Morgan and readers might argue that these individuals took retirement and shouldn’t double-dip. But the university faces a no-win situation in a bad budget year, either asking these individuals to leave and having to replace them either out of the ranks of faculty (leaving fewer faculty to teach) or by hiring someone from the outside (and inevitably paying more than the salary of the person who left).

I am also concerned with the inequity (administrators get to return from DROP, but not most regular faculty), but it’s the big picture that galls me: this came from a legislative initiative to run government on the cheap, and we’re seeing what often happens with such efforts: you pay more in the long run when you try to get by on the cheap.


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