Legislature must put end to double-dipping

A proposal by Walla Walla's Sen. Mike Hewitt and Sen. Lisa Brown would save the state millions by essentially closing the retire-rehire loophole.

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Double-dipping has been a problem in state government for years.

A state employee -- often one earning six figures -- retires with a hefty pension only to be rehired for the same job or a similar one a short time later. Taxpayers get ripped off, as they are now paying twice for the same amount of work.

This outrage has been going on for years in Washington state.

But the state government's current fiscal crisis -- the $5 billion shortfall between projected revenue and anticipated expenses -- has prompted the top Democrat and Republican in the Senate to join forces to end double-dipping.

Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, and Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, introduced legislation Tuesday aimed to halt the state's "retire-rehire" policy

Hewitt said that given the budget crisis and the underfunding of state pension plans, Washington cannot afford to pay these employees twice.

Agreed.

A Seattle Times investigation last year found that 2,000 state employees were collecting both a pension and salary, costing taxpayers about $85 million yearly.

A few years earlier, in 2005, a state study found the prospect of being rehired encouraged workers to retire earlier. This was seen as a significant contributor to depleting the state's financially strapped pension plans, according to the study.

That's hardly a shock. Who wouldn't hop on this gravy train if given the opportunity?

But this issue goes beyond money -- or, at least, it should. The practice just doesn't feel right.

And that's why double-dippers and those who rehire double-dippers -- the enablers -- become defensive when questioned about the practice. The response from most is that the practice is "legal" and they are "entitled."

Yes, it's legal, but a loophole in the law isn't an entitlement. It's taking advantage of taxpayers.

The Hewitt-Brown proposal appears to be a well-reasoned approach to curbing this abuse of the system.

It would allow the state to rehire retirees, but calls for pension payments to be reduced based on how much the retired employee works after being rehired.

This legislation, which should have been enacted before the financial crisis, must be a legislative priority now. This plan will save taxpayers millions as it closes a dubious loophole in the law.

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