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A different take on Wisconsin public employee 'double-dipping'
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Holahan argues a state pension is 'deferred compensation' for a job already done.
Holahan argues a state pension is 'deferred compensation' for a job already done.

William Holahan takes issue with Republican efforts to curb the practice of so-called double-dipping by public employees, starting with the moniker.

Double-dipping, says the retired UW-Milwaukee economics professor, is when you hold two jobs at once and do justice to neither. It is not when you hold "one job and then another" in succession.

Yet the term has apparently evolved. Merriam-Webster, for instance, defines it as the practice of collecting both a government pension and government salary.

And that is the target of a provision in Gov. Scott Walker's budget that was approved with revisions by the Joint Finance Committee Tuesday on a party-line vote, with all 12 Republicans voting in favor and all four Democrats opposed.

Under the proposal, state employees who retire would have to wait 75 days instead of 30 before returning to state service. Employees who work more than 1,392 hours at a new state job would not be able to continue collecting their pension through the Wisconsin Retirement System. That is actually more generous than Walker's proposal that set the threshold for most public employees at 1,200 hours and 880 hours for teachers.

Democratic members of the Joint Finance committee argued that law enforcement and school officials have told them such restrictions would hurt their ability to fill vacancies and keep experienced public safety professionals from working as trainers in educational settings after retirement.

But Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette), co-chair of the Joint Finance Committee, argued that under the terms approved, most public employees would be able to work roughly two-thirds of full time and still collect a pension. And, he added, "it's coming pretty darn close for a person in the school system being able to work full time and fit [these criteria]."

"It's a very reasonable and measured approach to a situation [where we] have had some glaring weaknesses over the past few years," said Nygren.

But Holahan argues the lawmakers are missing the point. A pension, he says, is "deferred compensation" for a job already done. It has nothing to do with a public employee's current employment.

"It's a promise that is made in the past that has brought the employee to the job," he says. "And it is a contractual obligation to continue to pay that. The fact that that contract is made for past work is the key reason why accepting a new job is not double-dipping."

Employees, he says, can't now refuse to do the work based on lack of payment.

"You can't get in the Wayback Machine and not give those lectures," he says.

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