Buyouts are getting increasingly commonplace in the newspaper industry. Trust me. We’re going through our third round of layoffs and buyouts at Tne News Tribune.
But there doesn’t appear to be much latitude for state agencies to basically pay their workers to go away sooner than they otherwise would. For several years, state agencies have had authority to pay workers as much as $25,000 as an incentive to retire. But that program is aimed at workers who already are 1 year past their “normal” retirement date.
Many of those workers are hanging around, partly because they don’t want to pay full freight for health care coverage, which is really pricey because the state has a great medical plan. It costs about $800 a month if you have to pay the full cost. (Workers pay 12 percent of their premiums today; the state pays 88 percent.)
Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark wants some help, and he wants it in a hurry. He points out that another drawback to the current “buyout” plan is that agencies must recover the costs during the same biennium. That is, if you pay a $50,000-a-year employee $25,000 to go away, you have to leave the job open for at least six months, as long as it would take to realize a $25,000 savings from a lower payroll.
Goldmark says there isn’t time for him to recoup that money since there are only 3-plus months left in the 2007-09 biennium. (It ends June 30.)
Goldmark wants Gov. Chris Gregoire and the Legislature to give him more time to recover the costs, i.e. let him recover costs into the next 24-month state budget cycle.
Otherwise, he will be laying off as much as 20 percent of his workforce, much of it before June 30. And since layoffs will be based on seniority — last hired, first fired — the new guys and gals will go. And when Goldmark’s senior workers at the state Department of Natural Resources finally do retire, there won’t be very many experienced workers left to take over for them. That’s what he says.
And as far as I can see, there are NO provisions for early retirement from state government.
Here’s the letter that Goldmark sent to the governor and legislators earlier this month.
And here are the current guidelines for paying workers to go away.