AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage unleashed an array of criticisms during an unscheduled press conference at the State House Wednesday.
One of his biggest complaints? Double dippers.
LePage said double dippers suffered from “a character flaw” and called the practice “unconscionable” and “absolutely disgusting.”
Double-dippers are public employees who collect a salary and a state retirement pension.
The governor directed his comments at school superintendents, who he said, were among the worst offenders of the practice.
A Portland Press Herald review of state retirement data last year showed there were 1,228 Mainers working for state and for local school districts while also collecting their Maine state pensions in 2011. That number did not include public-sector employees now collecting municipal salaries while also collecting benefits from the state pension program.
The report also found that 10 Maine public employees took in an average of $168,000 each in 2011 by collecting a salary and a state retirement pension at the same time. Those 10 employees included seven school superintendents and one assistant superintendent.
Some, including all of the top 10 earners, never actually stopped working. They simply retired for one day and then returned to work.
Others left jobs but returned to work years later for financial or other reasons.
Most of the double dippers — 86 percent — work for Maine school districts, which employ most of the state’s public work force. They range from experienced superintendents, who remain in high demand, to retired teachers who fill in as substitutes.
LePage said Wednesday that 20 percent of the superintendents were “double-dippers.”
After his criticism, LePage was told by a reporter that his budget officer, Sawin Millett, is also double-dipper. The governor said that he was unaware of it and turned to ask nearby Republican lawmakers if it was true.
It is. Millett, the state’s 74-year-old chief budget officer, has served in multiple administrations and in the Legislature, and officially retired in 2000 at age 62. Last year, Millett earned a $101,215 salary as part of the LePage administration while also collecting $24,951 in pension benefits, according to Public Employee Retirement System data.
Millett said Wednesday that he didn’t know the context of the governor’s comments, but assumed that his boss’s displeasure was mostly directed at public employees who retire to collect a pension while knowing full well that they plan to return to work.
Millett said his circumstances were different. He retired 10 years prior to taking the job as LePage’s budget officer, a job he was asked to come out of retirement to do.
“I came back to fill a role that I was qualified for,” he said. “It isn’t as if I’m trying to make money out of this business. I don’t look at this as a manipulative career change at all. I was asked to come out of retirement to do it and I accepted the job.”
In 2011 LePage passed a two-year budget that cut down on double-dipping. First the budget increased the retirement age for new state employees from age 62 to 65. Additionally, retired employees can only earn 75 percent of their salary if they come back to work while collecting a pensions. Returning retirees are also prohibited from working more than five years.