Lawmakers need to close state's double-dipping loophole

Ironically, a candidate for the state House is one who benefits from the retire-rehire policy.

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Double-dipping - retiring from a government job, collecting a pension and then getting rehired - has been going on for years.

But as the economy slid from bad to really bad, taxpayers started to take notice, and offense.

As a result, the Legislature is poised to take action to reduce double-dipping. Ironically, as noted in the News Tribune of Tacoma, if state House candidate Jake Fey is elected he could be faced with legislation aimed at doing away with a system that's been benefitting him.

Fey is making $137,000 as a Washington State University administrator while collecting an annual pension of $69,000 ($48,500 from Tacoma and $20,500 from the state). He's also earning a salary of just under $42,000 as a Tacoma City Council member.

Fey originally retired from WSU on Jan. 1, 2003, with about 30 years of state and local government service. He was then director of the Washington State University Extension Energy Program. He noted at the time he would like to come back to work, The News Tribune reported.

"Should the opportunity arise at some point where I might be able to return to the Energy Program and continue my service," he wrote, "I would be delighted to renew my association with Washington State University."

Exactly one month after his retirement Fey was back at work in his old job.

Fey, 61, said he left his WSU job with "no guarantee" of being rehired.

"I left, by a matter of choice, because it was the right time to take a break, and quite frankly, the retirement was there," he said. "I was entitled to it."

Was it legal? Yes. Was it appropriate? Not so much.

This is clearly taking advantage of a loophole to make a lot more money. A loophole isn't an entitlement - or, at least, it shouldn't be.

A 2005 state study found that the prospect of being rehired encouraged workers to retire earlier, helping deplete the state's already financially teetering pension plans, according to The News Tribune.

That's not surprising. State workers are human and enjoy a sweet deal just like everybody else.

But it's a slap to taxpayers who are footing the bill. The practice just doesn't feel right.

Earlier this year, after The Seattle Times reported that 58 state workers, mostly in higher education, had been rehired within three months of retirement, WSU President Elson Floyd ordered competitive searches to fill jobs rather than just rehiring those who had retired. He said the old practice was "no longer in the best interest of WSU." Floyd made the right call.

Fey is obviously a very sharp and talented person, which is why his services are in demand. It's not particulary fair to single out Fey, he isn't alone in this.

Still, he is running for the Legislature. If elected, his presence should spur lawmakers to close the loophole that allows double-dipping.

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