This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.
Double-dipping isn’t just a faux pas at the appetizer table. It also refers to workers who retire and then promptly are rehired – collecting both pension and salary.
This revolving-door practice among state workers is no secret; some lawmakers have tried periodically to clamp down on it, and a Seattle Times investigation earlier this year revealed that it’s going strong at state institutions of higher learning.
The state’s budget woes, coupled with an underfunded pension system, are giving new impetus to closing the so-called “retire-rehire” loophole for at least some state workers. Gov. Chris Gregoire is proposing changes that would apply to higher-education employees as part of a broader pension-overhaul plan.
Little wonder double-dipping is popular. Who wouldn’t love to “retire,” start collecting a generous pension and then get rehired in the same job – perhaps with a raise? If state rules allow it, a worker would almost be a chump not to take advantage of the policy, right?
The state’s rules say supervisors can’t pre-arrange to rehire a worker who has retired. But apparently that’s happening. In many cases, the supervisor isn’t even going through the motions of advertising the position and interviewing other people to fill it and is simply rehiring the recent retiree after the minimum one-month waiting period.
Outside of higher education – which is covered by a separate pension system – state workers who retire and then are rehired are limited to working 867 hours a year. But some workers are pulling in more hours.
Just Tuesday the state auditor released findings that at least six rehires at the state Employment Security Department, of all places, had worked more hours than allowed for employees who were also collecting pensions. Problems were found in the files of 47 retire-rehire cases, including lack of paperwork required to justify the rehire.
The state’s policy is too lax and almost encourages abuse. A pension should be the reward for a career – not an invitation to come back and collect a paycheck as well. When some public-sector departments are giving financial incentives to encourage older, higher-paid workers to retire, it doesn’t make sense to turn around and give others a paycheck on top of a pension.