KCET has a blockbuster report on the bizarre DROP program approved by voters under Mayor Richard Riordan when LAPD morale was so low — thanks to the Rampart scandal — that City Hall was at that time desperate to stop a rush of early cop retirements.
Now, says a probe by KCET's Judy Muller, the DROP perk is sacrosanct and cops and firefighters are getting very rich — awarded interest-bearing accounts of $800,000, $939,000 and $1 million. In a blatantly fake process, they “retire,” get the money, then get “rehired” the very next day. KCET hounded Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to probe this. His aides ducked. Villaraigosa says LAPD's been cut to the bone, asking voters to back Proposition A, a city sales tax hike, on March 5:
Mayoral candidates Wendy Greuel, who is the City Controller, and City Councilman Eric Garcetti, both love DROP, which stands for Deferred Retirement Option Plan.
A pleased Greuel gushes to the Muller team: “I don't see DROP as a double-dip!”
Garcetti goes much further in the KCET report, really sticking his foot in it.
Garcetti wrongly and solemnly claims: “Study after study shows [DROP] is a money saver.”
Wow. As KCET explains, that is simply untrue, at least in practice, in Los Angeles. Muller and team have been demanding the data on the true cost (or, alleged savings) for two years.
Inside City Hall, KCET has made itself known for demanding the data. It's hardly a secret.
In a warning issued during the KCET investigation
Tuesday Monday night, a respected former top budget analyst for Los Angeles, Keith Comrie, advised city leaders to, “Clean up your system now,” or “Dick Riordan will be back” to correct this onetime solution-turned-fiasco.
Riordan and the City Council in 2001 promised Los Angeles voters that the LAPD and Los Angeles Fire Department double-dipping scheme would cost the city nothing. And the fine print on the 2001 ballot measure, Charter Amendment 2, promised voters that the phony-retirement/double-dipping idea would be “cost-neutral.”
In truth, the fine print in Charter Amendment 2 only protected LAPD's and LAFD's pension funds from losses caused by having to create huge (even $1 million) interest-bearing accounts for cops and firefighters who don't really retire.
But Charter Amendment 2's fine print did not protect the actual city coffers — or taxpayers.
On top of that, years after voters approved it, the Los Angeles City Council in 2007 took out the taxpayer-protective “sunset clause” that applied to the DROP program.
Unlike the upbeat Greuel and Garcetti, mayoral candidate Kevin James told KCET: “It's a program that has to be done away with.” City Councilwoman and mayoral candidate Jan Perry, one of the council members who wiped out the sunset clause, promises that she, as mayor, would analyze how much DROP may be sapping from the city.
Los Angeles chief fiscal officer Miguel Santana has repeatedly promised, then failed, to dig into DROP costs despite repeated pressure from city budget watchers.
Now, as Muller notes, DROP programs are being scuttled in other states. There, the fake retirement scheme swept through when it was backed by many politicians who weren't bothered by the appearance, if not the fact, of “doubledipping.”
In those other states, DROP turned out to be as costly as it sounds, Muller reports.