- Associated Press - Friday, June 12, 2015

BOSTON (AP) - The number of Massachusetts state employees who applied for an early retirement program apparently will fall short of original projections by Gov. Charlie Baker, who is hoping early retirements will help close the state’s projected budget shortfall.

The state Retirement Board reported that 2,960 applications had been received by late Friday, the last day they could be submitted. Applications were accepted in person until 6 p.m. but could be filed electronically until midnight.

The Baker administration had estimated about 4,500 workers would accept incentives to take early retirement.

Under that estimated figure, the state could trim its payroll and save more than $170 million to help close the projected shortfall in the fiscal year starting July 1.

The state treasurer’s office also said the actual number of early retirees would almost certainly be lower than the number who sign up because applicants have until June 30 to withdraw their applications, and the board could determine that some do not meet eligibility requirements.

Officials have said state employee layoffs might be necessary if the original goals were not met, but other options could be considered, including possibly replacing a smaller percentage of the departing workers.

The Legislature has authorized the administration to “backfill” 20 percent of the salaries of early retirees under the program offered to employees who are at least 55 years old and have a minimum 20 years of state government service. Those eligible for the program could boost their pensions by adding five years to their ages or to their lengths of service.

Elizabeth Guyton, a spokeswoman for Baker, said officials plan to review the final enrollment numbers before determining how the savings target could be achieved “with minimal impact on state services.”

Administration officials noted that the average salaries of the workers who chose the early retirement option appeared to be trending higher than original estimates. They also pointed out that fewer retirees would mean lower pension costs.

David Holway, president of the National Association of Government Employees, said he always expected the number of retirees to be closer to 3,000 because the governor’s plan excluded certain categories of workers, including those whose salaries are paid by federal funds. But he credited Baker for devising a “humane way of reducing the workforce,” and said he hoped further layoffs would not be necessary.

“I’m always worried about layoffs,” said Holway. “I just don’t know if we can perform the core function of state government with 3,000 less people, let alone more than 3,000.”

Some lawmakers and union representatives have expressed concern that the departure of thousands of experienced workers could create a “brain drain” in state government and devastate some key agencies.

Baker said he did not foresee any major problems, noting the state has withstood two other early retirement programs over the last 20 years.


This story includes a correction to show that applications can be submitted electronically until midnight.

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