DROP Program Scrutiny Prompts City Council Tirade

Did you read this story in today's Daily News? City Council Majority Leader Marian Tasco sure did. And she didn't like it. Not one bit. Tasco made a speech at the end of Council's weekly session, complaining that she and five colleagues who are in the controversial Deferred Retirement Option Program [DROP] are being "maligned" for their participation.

We reported today that Tasco, Council President Anna Verna and Council members Frank DiCicco, Donna Reed Miller, Frank Rizzo and Jack Kelly are enrolled in DROP and will collect a combined $2.1 million in lump-sum retirement payments at the end of their terms. None of those Council members would tell the Daily News if they intended to exploit a loophole that allows them to run for another term, get re-elected, retire for one day, collect the six-figure payout and then go back on the city payroll.

Council Majority Leader Marian Tasco

Tasco's point, which she declined to discuss yesterday when the Daily News was reporting the story, is that Council members are simply taking their own pension benefits, not cash from the city's general fund. She complained in her speech that the DROP program is portrayed as if "we are taking suitcases of money out of the city."

"The media has failed to clearly outline what the program is all about," Tasco said after Council adjourned for the day. "At the end of the day, when we leave, we are in essence taking our money."

Mayor Nutter has proposed excluding future elected officials from the program, which has caused serious friction for him with Council just as budget hearings begin for his controversial budget. That budget aims to close a $1.4 billion gap in the city's five-year financial plan. Tasco said Nutter's proposal will not impact how those hearings go. "Council members are not petty," she said.

UPDATE, 1 pm:  Verna backed up Tasco after Council finished for the day, saying she and her colleagues are "entitled" to the program like any city employee.  "I think someone has to give us to clear this all up a true result of an honest study," Verna added. "We are being told it does not take a nickel out of the general fund. It is our money that is being invested."