Paying twice for the same service doesn't make sense

Filed under: Opinion |

One of the problems that any type of governmental entity faces is a perception by the public that there are too many perks and that tax dollars are not being spent as wisely as they should be.

State employees in Colorado can retire and draw a pension from the Public Employees’ Retirement Association, then turn right around and return to their previous position as a contract worker. In essence, those folks are getting paid double for the same job.

State Treasure Mike Coffman wants to reform the system. State law says that if pensioned-retirees are reinstated for more than 110 days per calendar year, their monthly pension benefit is reduced by 5 percent. However, being hired under a contract circumvents the rule and some entities, such as school districts, split the days among a fall and spring semester over two calendar years so that the 110-day limit is not reached.

As with any other statue, rule, law or policy, someone always finds a loophole or two to squeeze through. But when you’re talking public dollars, taking advantage of a loophole would seem to be taking advantage of each and every taxpayer in the state. Somehow, that doesn’t seem right.

The vast majority of public sector employees are good, hard-working people who deserve the benefits that they earn during their years of service. But drawing a full pension and a salary for the same job simply smacks of governmental waste and inefficiency. And paying double for something doesn’t make sense regardless of whether the work is being done in the public or private sector.

Proponents of the current system point to the advantages of hiring retirees, such as cost savings and no need for additional training. But any system that rewards someone so handsomely for leaving and then returning to a job is flawed at best and broken at worst. Retirement by definition is to leave gainful employment, not to double one’s salary because he or she happens to be fortunate to work for an entity covered by the Public Employees Retirement Association.

Coffman is worried that a continuation of the status quo will endanger the solvency of the state retirement program. Of course if no one new is ever hired because retirees are getting double wages, there might not be a need for the retirement system in the years ahead. If the fund does go bust, you can bet that the folks who are retired/working will likely be some of the first to ask for a taxpayer bailout. And why shouldn’t they, since they seem to be quite adept at taking every advantage the system has to offer.

While the entities who promote “double-dipping” and the people participating are technically within the letter of the law, they might want to take perception into consideration. Government, for reasons right or wrong, doesn’t enjoy a general perception as being lean and mean or overly fiscally responsible. And the private sector masses aren’t likely to embrace a policy that isn’t widespread in the “real” world.

Coffman’s idea to reform the system sounds good on its face. It remains to be seen whether any substantial change will actually be enacted. Once somebody has a sweet deal or a plumb perk, it’s not easy to take it away, regardless of how much sense it makes.