A question was posed in the comments section, and we’ve got the answer, with questions to follow.
Bobby Diaz, currently seeking to retain his county court seat against challenger Michael Heise, is indeed in Florida’s Deferred Retirement Option Program, or DROP.
According to the folks up in Tallahassee, Diaz elected to start DROP on December 1, 2014, and will max out his five years of taxpayer-funded contributions on November 30, 2019, or roughly eleven months after beginning a new term, if he beats Heise.
Diaz collects his full judicial salary, currently $151,821.96, while the benefits accrue, and unlike state employees who are not constitutional officers, will not be forced to retire after the DROP pot is full. Diaz, 65 years old, can finish his term if he chooses, or he can retire anytime after December, 2019, take the DROP money, and collect his pension. We don’t have the exact figures yet, but it’s believed his DROP cash would be at least in the $600,000 range, and the annual pension north of $100,000. DROP money does not accrue interest after it reaches the limit and is not withdrawn, which could be another incentive to throw in a robe.
DROP, of course, was designed to entice older, better paid employees to make way for younger, less expensive ones. The thinking went that Florida would save a ton of money, and get many younger, dedicated individuals to commit their most productive decades to the state by creating room at the top. Taxpayers do not save a judicial salary when DROP is involved, since all judges are paid the same, but they would arguably get a much younger jurist devoting a new, long career to their respective circuit, which is probably why DROP applies to those on the bench.
There’s nothing in the rules against Diaz and others in his position running after signing on to collect early retirement benefits. And if Diaz did intend to retire early when he entered DROP, it’s his option to change his mind and go for a new six-year term, which the retirement age rules allow him to complete. Plenty of judges have done just that, while many others have bailed with time on their terms when the DROP pot got too hot to not handle, effectively turning an elected seat into an appointed one.
And now for the questions.
Should the DROP law be changed to stop it from applying to the judiciary and other fixed salary positions, or to stop elected officials from seeking new terms after they’ve entered DROP?
Should the elected class be treated like all state employees, and be forced to retire when the expensive taxpayer contributions reach the five-year limit?
Should there be a cutoff point for constitutional officers, limiting the ability to seek new terms to those less than half-way through the five-year contribution period at the time of qualifying?
Should post-DROP office seekers be required to disclose their status to the voters?
Or should things stay the same?
YOU MAKE THE CALL!