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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Bill to Shut Down Drop Program Advances

Members of the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee voted 10 to 4 along party lines to advance a bill that would end enrollment in the DROP program and change how much interest the remaining accounts receive starting June 1. Ending the program was one of the cost saving measures that Gov. Robert Bentley outlined in his state of the state address Tuesday.

State Rep. Barry Mask, R-Wetumpka, is the sponsor of the bill and he said its only purpose is to “scrape up all the money we can” to help the state save money in the beleaguered General Fund. Projections from the Legislative Fiscal Office and others put the savings to the state between $35 million and $70 million. But opponents of the bill argue that lawmakers don’t have the real numbers on what eliminating the program could cost the state.

The bill would end new enrollment in the DROP program, which was created in 2002 to discourage valuable employees from taking early retirement. It also would change the interest that DROP accounts accumulate from 4 percent to whatever the market rate is. DROP provides an incentive for state, county and education employees who are 55 years old and have at least 25 years of service to keep working for at least another three to five years in exchange for sending their retirement allowance to an account that they can cash out when they complete the program.

Committee members heard impassioned pleas from high school football coaches and teachers who extolled the benefits of the program and asked lawmakers to consider ways to keep it and save money during a public Wednesday.

Steve Savarese, executive director of the Alabama High School Athletic Association and 37-year veteran teacher, asked lawmakers to consider what doing away with the program would do to the state’s ability to keep experienced teachers in hard to staff subjects such as math and science.

“My main concern is that we’re going to lose our best and brightest,” he said.

Read the rest of the story in Thursday's edition of the Montgomery Advertiser at www.montgomeryadvertiser.com.

-- Markeshia Ricks

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Location: Montgomery, AL, United States

South Union Street is the blog of Montgomery Advertiser political reporters Markeshia Ricks and Sebastian Kitchen. Always check here for the latest on the Legislature, elections and other activities and players in Alabama.

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