Editorial: Why does state need so many double-dippers?

Published: Monday, Apr. 29, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 11A

How's this for a sweet deal? A former Finance Department employee retires from state service and collects a pension of close to $153,000 annually. Then the state rehires her part time in a top-level position, boosting her state pay to $210,000 a year.

As The Bee's Jon Ortiz reported last week, even though Gov. Jerry Brown promised to remove them from all but the most mission- critical positions, as of January, the state still employed 3,940 retired annuitants; 75 hold upper-level jobs that pay up to $13,400 a month. More than a third of those were in the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Union leaders complain that annuitants take jobs from full-time union workers and slow promotions – all true.

The reasons are complex. They begin with a state retirement system that almost forces California government's most valuable workers out the door way too early. Experienced middle managers and senior executives can leave state service in their early to mid-50s with sizable pensions and, if they've worked 20 years, guaranteed lifetime health benefits. Many who leave are at the top of their game.

The state's budget crisis hastened retirements. Faced with furloughs and pay freezes, many state workers could earn more in retirement, so they left early.

The state benefits from rehiring such workers. Retired annuitants can cost half as much as full-time employees, because the agency that hires them is not required to pay their retirement or health benefits.

But because they don't pay into the retirement system, long-term retired annuitants can increase the unfunded liability in the state's already depleted retirement fund.

A change in retirement law that pushes retirement ages for most public employees to 66, the same as for private sector workers, and police and firefighters to 55, is the best way to reduce the state's unhealthy reliance on retired annuitants. Last year's retirement reform accomplished that for new hires but not for current employees.

The Brown administration last week shut down a controversial practice that allowed salaried state managers and supervisors to also earn hourly wages. That's a separate issue, but related. The administration needs to do a better job of enforcing its own policies – employing only those retirees whose absence would seriously disrupt state business or endanger public safety.

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