Opinion

Double-dipping retirees exploit a bad state law

Sound Off is a public forum. Articles are selected from letters to the editor or may be written specifically for this feature. Today, Auburn teacher Ron Podmore examines the state’s retire/rehire law, especially as it relates to Washington school teachers.

Each day it seems as if our budget deficit for Washington grows exponentially. From $3.1 to $5 billion, and now, last I heard, it could very well approach and surpass $6 billion.

Our state economic forecast illustrates the fact that as our tax collections slow down, so too should our spending.

Gov. Christine Gregoire is proposing to use the rainy day funds, which specifically was set aside to cover catastrophic financial events such as those we are experiencing. She is working with her budget policy advisors to craft a budget that, as she says, “... there is nothing to love about (it).”

Buried deep in state spending is something called the retire/rehire law. This was signed several year ago under Gov. Gary Locke’s administration. During the expanding economy, many individuals left the public for the private sector.

As a result, there were very few “experienced” employees left because they all were retiring.

Locke sweetened the pot and allowed individuals with at least 25 years the opportunity to wait three months, then “re-apply” for their old positions. They could receive the same amount as the day they retired and then collect their retirement pension on top of that.

Gosh, two paychecks. One for simply being retired, the other for working at their exact same job they just left three months earlier.

Many of these individuals worked for such departments as transportation and social and health services.

In essence, any state agency you can think of.

Over the years, the law was reduced to where its sole effect applies to mostly those in the public K-12 education field. Many of these retire-rehires are very capable and talented at doing their jobs effectively.

However, this begets the question: Should they be pulling close to double their salaries with the current condition of our state budget?

Better yet, is there any reason why any state employee should be compensated for both their retirement and a current paycheck?

This clearly is not equal pay for equal work.

I did a little cost analysis, assuming some very conservative numbers and starting with 1,000 state employees in the K-12 system. That probably would include superintendents, classified, certificated and exempt employees. (Think teachers, paraprofessionals, maintenance, secretaries, bus drivers, etc.).

I’m sure there are those in the state-supported college system who are retire/rehires. But for now, looking at solely the K-12 system, it is quite spectacular that there are savings of at least $34 million if these retire/rehires were to either continue working at their jobs full time and put off collecting their pensions.

The savings would be even more if they didn’t reapply for their positions that are written exclusively for them, but yet settle comfortably into retirement.

My numbers might be off a little, but to paraphrase the character Scully from the old “X-Files” television series, I’m sure “somewhere lies the truth.”

There are many talented individuals who have the same credentials, yet have given up applying primarily because they know the job is going to a retire/rehire. Do we really want our future teachers, principals and others ready to aspire to great responsibilities play the waiting game until someone dies of old age?

Governor, go one more additional step. There still are numerous additions you can place on the chopping block to save us taxpayers valuable dollars.

Revisit the entire retire/rehire law. It’s bad for Washington.

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