Gov. Charlie Baker signs state employee retirement incentive program into law

By Shira Schoenberg
May 04, 2015 at 5:15 PM

BOSTON - Gov. Charlie Baker signed a law establishing a retirement incentive for state employees, on the same day the Legislature sent the bill to his desk.

"We're very happy with the Legislature's compromise on this, and we're thrilled that they acted expeditiously to get this done," Baker told reporters at the Statehouse. "I appreciate the fact that it was a complicated piece of legislation to begin with, and we're looking forward to moving forward on the act of actually implementing it."

Baker, a Republican, proposed the retirement incentive at the end of March, as a way to encourage 4,500 state employees to retire before the next fiscal year, saving an estimated $170 million a year. The proposal was to allow executive branch employees who are eligible to retire but had not reached their maximum pension benefit to add an additional five years to their age or years of service.

The bill made its way through the Legislature over the last month, with the Senate and House making some changes. The final version of the law will allow up to 5,000 employees to retire by June 30, and those numbers can be met through buyouts, early retirement or attrition.

Employees can apply for retirement between May 11 and June 12, with priority going to those who have worked for the state the longest.

Employees will not be allowed to be rehired as consultants for 30 days. Agency heads can also offer $10,000 buyouts to employees who have already reached their maximum pension benefit.

As in Baker's proposal, the state will be allowed to spend just 20 percent of the savings backfilling positions.

Unions and some lawmakers have worried that some government services would be decimated. Baker, asked whether the government can continue to function, pointed out that Massachusetts ran similar programs in 2002 and 2004, and "state government continued to do the work of the people after that."

House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, added, "I think with the plan we have in place, I think the governor's right. I think it'll work out fine."

Senate President Stan Rosenberg, D-Amherst, said, "I'm pleased we were able to pull it together in such a way that we give the governor the encouragement to use a wide range of tools, not just early retirement, to deal with the reduction in force that is necessary in order to be part of balancing the budget."

Rosenberg said the cap will help ensure that there is not an overwhelming exodus of employees that would compromise the agencies' ability to provide services.

Stephanie Corte of Westborough, an administrative employee of the state police, was overjoyed to hear that the bill reached Baker.

"I can't tell you, I am so excited," Corte told a reporter.

Corte, 65, planned to retire in March with a pension equal to 70 percent of her salary. But then Baker announced his proposal, which would give her the maximum benefit of 80 percent, so she waited.

Corte has worked for the state police for 28 years. She spent most of her career in a narcotics unit, but when the unit closed for budgetary reasons, she was moved to the fingerprinting unit, where she did not want to be.

She described the back and forth between the House and Senate as "the most nerve-wracking thing I've ever gone through."

"It's like all right already, let's get this done," Corte said. "When you've already decided to retire, it's very hard to wait."

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