HUNTSVILLE — Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley plans to ask legislators to pass a bill offering eligible state employees an incentive if they voluntarily retire.
The governor announced details of the plan at a news conference Monday in Huntsville. He said it would either pay 100 percent of monthly premiums for health insurance for five years or offer $15,000 in cash payments in two $7,500 installments. The first installment would be paid when the employee retires and the second would be paid in January 2014.
He said the program would help retiring workers while also save taxpayers between $18 million and $26 million a year.
“This program will save taxpayer dollars in both the short term and the long term. The result will be a less costly, more-efficient state government,” Bentley said.
Legislators in the Shoals expressed a wait-and-see attitude toward the proposal.
State Rep. Greg Burdine, D-Florence, attended Bentley’s announcement Monday. He said he wants to read the details of the plan but thinks he could support it.
“A lot of those people are going to retire anyway, so if it can help them and help the state, that could be a good thing,” Burdine said. “Generally, I’m not opposed to it, but I want it to benefit the state employees first. If it is not to their benefit, then I can’t support it.”
Burdine has one concern about the proposal: The possible depletion of workers with experience.
Rep. Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia, doesn’t want to lose so many employees that government operations suffer.
“If everyone took advantage of it, it would have an adverse effect on state government,” he said.
Black said his initial thought was the plan has merit and some employees will be for it, but if the goal is to not replace retirees, “it quickly loses its appeal to me.”
Republican Rep. Mac McCutcheon, of Capshaw, said he would introduce the legislation in the session that begins Feb. 5.
If approved, Bentley said the retirement incentives would be available to merit and non-merit employees of executive, judicial and legislative branches. It would not be available to education employees, but the governor’s office said a separate voluntary retirement incentive for teachers could be introduced later.
Mac McArthur, executive director of the Alabama State Employees Association, said his first impression of the governor’s proposal is mostly favorable.
“I think it’s certainly favorable to layoffs,” McArthur said, alluding to the state’s budget woes in recent years.
But he said he was concerned about the impact of such a proposal on the state’s retirement system. He also said he was worried that it could cause manpower shortages in some state agencies.
Lt. Gov. Kay ivey said the proposal would offer “an attractive option for state employees to consider.”
Ivey said she saw the incentive proposal as a way to reduce the size of government without impacting services provided by the state.
The program would apply to employees who are currently eligible for retirement. Most state employees become eligible to retire at age 62, but some law enforcement workers become eligible earlier.
McArthur said a somewhat similar plan was offered in the 1990s by former Gov. Fob James that led to the retirement of several thousand state workers.