State Board Employees Met Challenge... And Succeeded

MAY 2004
- Responded To Early Retirement Demands - Employees at the State Retirement Board recently completed a
challenging two-year work cycle that will likely never be matched again.

During
years 2002 and 2003, Board employees processed over 11,000 retirements.
In year 2002 there were 6,458 new pensions, followed by another 4,562
in 2003.

These totals included 4,715
five-year early retirement incentive plan (ERIs) employees who said
goodbye in 2002, and another 3,100 ERIs in 2003. The last of these ERIs
were higher education professors, teachers and support staff, some of
whom did not receive their first check until early this year because of
a December retirement date.

The only
other year that came close to 2002 was 1992, when there were 5,722
retirements. That was the year of the first-ever five-year bonus offers
which saw 4,200 employees grab their golf clubs, fishing rods and
travel brochures.

Members will
recall that in 1992 a budget deficit portended hard times and the
Legislature, anxious to avoid layoffs, voted for an early-out (Ch. 22).

In
December of that year, Chapter 399 was also passed by the Legislature
and signed by Governor Weld. This was a local option bill allowing the
cash-starved cities, towns and counties to offer an early retirement in
1993 for their employees, thousands of whom took advantage of this
offer.

Although 1992 was supposed to
be a once-in-a-lifetime ERI offer, to the surprise of many, another
opportunity arose 10 years later in 2002. A depressed economy saw the
state facing an even larger budget shortfall than in 1992, and as Yogi
once said, "It was deja vu all over again," when the Legislature passed
Chapter 219 (Dec 31, 2002) for state employees. This was followed by
Chapter 116 (May 15, 2002), an option for local government employees.

With
a still greater budget deficit looming in 2003, the Legislature voted
to allow a second "deja vu," still another five-year ERI. The language
for this ERI was contained in the state budget-language that was vetoed
by Governor Romney, but overridden by the Legislature on July 9 of last
year.

Employees Praised

Nick
Favorito had barely gotten his feet wet last year as the new director
of the State Board when the Board was faced with another ERI, this time
with only a few days notice.

"Fortunately,
we have a veteran staff that had the experience of processing the 2002
early retirement," said Favorito. "They knew what to expect, it was not
a new procedure. Some had even worked the first early retirement back
in '92.

"We had over 8,000 inquiries
either by telephone, e-mail or walk -in. We worked evenings, Saturdays
and established temporary satellite offices in three locations
throughout the state. Our staff performed admirably, without complaint.
We have an older but reliable computer system and fortunately there
were no major computer problems.

"We
received a number of letters from members praising the staff's patience
and courtesy in dealing with their applications. Some involved lengthy
research because of broken time or time with other retirement systems,"
he said.

Bob Minue, the deputy
director of the State Board, said that there was a greater sense of
urgency among state employees during the 1992 early retirement.

"There
was a limit to the number of retirements... a first-come, first-serve
basis, which resulted in an almost panic situation among employees.
Although the limit was never actually reached, employees had no way of
knowing and were lining up two days in advance so as not to be left
out. There was a feeling that there would never be another ERI," he
said.

Minue, a longtime Board
employee, says that many employees now feel that there will be future
ERIs and after checking what their pension benefit would be in the '02
or '03 ERI, said they would wait until the next ERI. This, of course,
may never happen.

He says that the
'03 ERI was especially difficult because of the very short time notice
and narrow retirement window and, like Nick Favorito, feels that the
staff rose to the challenge like true professionals.

Note: Totals of new pensions include new survivors' pensions.

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