School districts and state agencies are facing real problems that result from having an aging workforce.

Hard-to-replace workers are nearing retirement age, making it likely that key positions could be left vacant during a long recruitment process. Decision-makers could be forced to commit to hiring candidates that they don’t think are up to the job.

But instead of looking for a solution, the Legislature is considering a bill that would make it even worse.

L.D. 1509, sponsored by Rep. Heidi Sampson, R-Alfred, would discourage the practice of “double dipping” through which a state or school district employee officially retires but keeps working at the same job, drawing a pension and a paycheck at the same time.

The practice sounds bad, especially when you add up how much one person is collecting each month and compare it to what an ordinary employee would take home. It looks bad too, when you consider that the “retired” employee is still at his desk.

But it’s not actually bad. It’s actually one of those rare win-win arrangements that benefits both the employee and the employer.

First of all, the name “double dip” indicates that someone is getting paid twice for the same work. That is false.

The employee draws the pension for which he or she would be eligible, regardless of whether they are cruising in the Bahamas or still back in the classroom. The pension system does not pay one extra nickel if the worker keeps working.

The “retired” employees do not get any fringe benefits when they go back to work. Their pay is capped at 75 percent of what they used to be making and the employer does not have to contribute to their health insurance or retirement account. The state or school district is actually paying less than it would if a benefit-eligible employee had been hired for the job.

The situation is not ideal. Rehiring a retirement-age employee is temporary fix. It does not move younger people through the ranks, preparing them for long careers in key positions. Seeing older people hanging onto jobs may make younger workers leave the public sector because they can’t see a path to advancement.

But being able to rehire a retired worker does give managers time to find the right people for the right jobs, and it doesn’t strain the budget. The state is under no obligation to hire a newly retired worker to stay on the job, and those workers can be let go at any time without cause.

Sampson’s bill would prevent the employee from receiving pension payments while they are working. That sounds fair, but it takes away any incentive for the employee to stick around. Instead of continuing to work for a school district or the state at a reduced rate, the same worker could take a private sector job while drawing his full pension. Who benefits from that?

Double dipping is not the problem that critics claim, and it should not be on the Legislature’s agenda during the short session, which is supposed to be devoted to emergency measures. This is not a problem that needs fixing.

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