Loopholes that allow state pension abuse must be closed

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Double-dipping is wrong. Yet, it’s occurring in Washington state.

We aren’t talking about chips or Buffalo wings (although that is frowned upon), we’re referring to government employees retiring with a hefty pension (sometimes nearly equal to their salaries) only to be rehired for the same job or a similar one a short time later.

Taxpayers are being fleeced. They are paying two salaries for one job.

Nearly three years ago the state Legislature, in a bipartisan effort led by Sen. Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, and Sen. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, approved reforms. The changes still allowed the state to rehire retirees, but called for pension payments to be reduced based on how much the retired employee works after being rehired.

The changes, however, included an exception for firefighters and law enforcement officers so they can transition to less physically demanding jobs as they get older.

Unfortunately, that well-meaning exception is being used as a loophole to collect full pensions and nearly full salaries.

Last month The Associated Press examined the special rules for the LEOFF Plan 1 and LEOFF Plan 2 pension systems that allow for retire-rehire arrangements.

After reviewing the rules earlier this year with state officials, according to AP, the city of DuPont hired its police chief at 35 hours a week instead of 40, allowing him to draw pension and salary. The police chief in Soap Lake has been able to draw both salary and pension because the mayor told state officials he was only working 32 hours a week. For three years, a Maple Valley fire chief drew $100,000 a year in salary and a similar amount in pension payments because the position was considered part time.

It’s time for the Legislature to revisit the issue and lock down the law.

The Law Enforcement Officers’ and Fire Fighters’ Retirement System Board for Plan 2 (employees hired after 1977) is recommending lawmakers change state law to prevent retire-rehire arrangements. The vote was unanimous and the Board is working with state officials to draft language for lawmakers to consider when they convene in Olympia in January.

Board members should be commended for taking action to right (or, at least, mitigate) this wrong.

Now, to be clear, we have nothing against law enforcement officers and firefighters being well compensated with a good salary and excellent retirement benefits.

It’s the calculated abuse of the system by a few that is so troubling and must be eliminated.

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