Governor Charlie Baker’s pension-sweetening early retirement plan fell far short of the 4,500 state employees the administration estimated would take deal and leave voluntarily on June 30.
Friday was the application deadline and after the state retirement board weeded out some ineligible applicants, there were only 2,659 employees poised to take advantage of the program, according to a Monday letter from the state comptroller.
Though that number could change with further vetting and with applicants changing their minds, the less-than-expected interest in the program — initiated to save money as the state faces a tough budget crunch — raises the prospect of layoffs.
Baker’s budget chief is mandated to achieve payroll savings of $172 million after accounting for costs in the fiscal year that begins July 1. But the budget chief, Kristen Lepore, said she feels comfortable the administration will still get “close to” the required savings level through methods other than layoffs.
She mentioned that the average salary of the people who are retiring is “higher than what we had assumed.” Also, the administration has other tools, she said, pointing to one-time bonuses to encourage the voluntary departure of people whose large pensions disqualify them from the early retirement program.
And, to maximize savings, Lepore can also limit rehires of newly vacant positions beyond the restrictions on rehires already in the law.
Layoffs, if required, will be minimal, she said in a short interview.
The data from the comptroller, Thomas Shack, do not include each applicant’s position or salary, but do show that the early retirement program was far more popular in some corners of state government than others.
About 15 percent of employees at the Department of Transitional Assistance, which helps poor people meet their basic needs, applied for the early retirement program, aiming to hit the exits at the end of the month.
A similar percentage of employees at the Department of Environmental Protection, which works to ensure clean air and water, and the Department of Revenue, which enforces tax laws, have applied for the pension-boosting program, according to the preliminary data.
About 432 employees of the Department of Transportation applied for the early retirement deal. But workers at the troubled Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority were not eligible for the package.
Other agencies are poised to see only a sliver of their workforce depart.
One is the beleaguered Department of Children and Families, which helps protect children from abuse and neglect. One hundred people — or less than 3 percent of its workforce — applied for the program.
The early retirement application numbers are from data provided by the state comptroller in a letter and spreadsheet sent to legislative leaders Monday. The Boston Globe asked for the information and compared it with the numbers of active employees in each agency as of January, which was provided by the Baker administration’s budget office. The percentages of employees who have applied for the early retirement program are approximate — the total number of workers at particular agencies may have changed since the beginning of the year.
The program boosts pensions by crediting workers with up to five additional years of age or work. But it’s only for employees who are already eligible to receive a state pension — those who have achieved 20 years of service or those who are 55 or older and have reached 10 years of service. They also have to meet other eligibility criteria.
While some positions were deemed critical by Lepore and people in those jobs were not eligible for the program, many others in the executive department — a big part of the bureaucracy under the governor’s control — were able to apply.
Lepore, the secretary of the Executive Office for Administration and Finance, has discretion to approve rehires, so agencies that see a lot of departures may get the green light to fill certain vacated spots.
The program, approved by the Legislature, is part of Baker’s efforts to address a projected $1.8 billion shortfall in the new fiscal year.