Monday, May 12, 2008
Some state workers put retirement on hold to consider buyout
By ERIK SCHELZIG • Associated Press Writer • May 12, 2008 The prospect of lucrative buyout packages is leading some state employees to put their retirement plans on hold. The Associated Press has found that Gov. Phil Bredesen's plan to try to entice about 2,000 state employees to volunteer for buyout packages has caused some workers who had notified the state of their imminent retirement to reconsider. Bredesen, a Democrat, last week announced the plan to eliminate about 5 percent of the state work force as part of his efforts to balance the budget amid the state's deteriorating revenue picture. The governor was scheduled to lay out details about nearly a half-billion dollar budget cut in a speech to a joint assembly of the legislature on Monday night. Jill Bachus, director of the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System, confirmed that there's nothing to prevent state workers from rescinding their retirement paperwork so long as they haven't yet started collecting their benefits. "Many of them are saying, 'Well I'd like to withdraw and hold my retirement for a week or two,"' she said. Bachus couldn't say how many state workers had called to stop their paperwork from being processed, but she expects the volume of such requests to increase when Bredesen releases details of the buyout plan. "We expect to have a lot of business," she said. Summer is already the busiest time of the year for the retirement system because that's when most teachers and a large portion of other state employees decide to retire. So state workers are encouraged to hand in their paperwork about three months in advance of their planned retirement date, Bachus said. State officials have said the buyouts will be targeted at the roughly 6,000 state employees who have at least 30 years of experience. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, said last week that another approach could be to offer younger state employees free courses at state colleges in addition to cash as an incentive to give up their government jobs. Bredesen has said trimming the state's payroll would lead to about $64 million a year in savings. The voluntary buyouts have drawn the support of the Tennessee State Employees Association and legislative leaders. "I'm glad that in tough budget times we're not even looking at raising taxes and we're doing what everybody else has to do, which is live within their means," said Ramsey. Some lawmakers, led by House Democrats, are considering a one-time cash bonus for all state workers as a way to make up for the loss of a 2 percent pay raise that has been canceled because of the funding shortfall. House Finance Chairman Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, said the amount of the bonuses would be based on how much money can be drummed up without tapping into the state's "rainy day" reservers. "I don't think everybody's going to get overjoyed about the amount of any bonus," he said. "But I guess any little bit could help."