Monday, August 20, 2007

Cincinnati Enquirer: Rep. Michelle Schneider and 'Gaming the system' (double dipping)

Rep. targeting 'double-dipping'
Cincinnati Enquirer
August 19, 2007
Ohio state Rep. Michelle Schneider is outraged that a public employee would try to collect his or her pension early – a practice she said is becoming more and more common – and she wants to put a stop to what she calls “gaming the system.”
Schneider, R-Madeira, introduced a bill in June that she hopes will end “double dipping,” when a public pension member retires and returns to work at the same job. In doing so, the employee begins collecting his monthly pension in addition to salary.
“We’re trying to stop the gaming,” she said. “Even one person doing it is too many.”
Schneider said one example of the practice is the possible retirement of John Baron, director of River City Correctional Center.
The board that oversees the Camp Washington facility voted to allow Baron to retire from his $90,000 a year job and return to the same job at a lower salary while he starts collecting his pension.
That move is under fire from Hamilton County Common Pleas judges, who have asked for a re-vote by board members who are partly appointed by the judges.
Schneider’s bill focuses on four of the state’s five retirement systems that allow double dipping: The Public Employees Retirement System, the State Teachers Retirement System, the Service Employees Retirement System and the Ohio Police and Fire Retirement System.
The fifth retirement system, the Highway Patrol Retirement System, does not allow for re-employment
House Bill 270 says any member of the four systems who retires and returns to the same job within 180 days cannot receive both their pension and salary.
“The problem we’re seeing is with school superintendents or administrators like John Baron where people retire from their position on Friday and return to exact same position on Monday while collecting their pension,” Schneider said. “The system was never set up for this kind of gaming.”
After 180 days the person can return to the same job while collecting a pension, but Schneider said 180 days is too long to leave jobs empty and will curb double dipping. “This bill is a perfect balance,” she said.
It discourages people from collecting pensions early, but it also allows people who retire and later want to return to work – for instance teachers and police officers – to do so without a penalty, she said.
The system was set up for protection of public employees, police, fire, teachers and government workers who work at low-paying public service jobs for 25 or 30 years.
Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes, a Democrat who has long criticized the practice of double dipping, said other lawmakers have tried and failed.
“The legislature has been nibbling around the edges for years,” Rhodes said. “But any step forward to stop it I think is a pretty good thing.”
Rhodes said the proposed law could be tougher: “The best thing to do is say no more. People will figure out way to get around it.”
Rhodes noted the bill doesn’t address what happens when a person comes back and works at a different job, a common practice, he said.
“It will be about what you can and can’t get through,” Rhodes said. “Points to her for trying, but it’s really about the outcome.”
Schneider, vice chairwoman of the Ohio Retirement Study Council, who has been a member of the council for seven years, took up the cause when the executive director of the Montgomery County Board of Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services came under fire earlier this year for double dipping
“I was outraged by this,” she said.
Schneider said the retirement systems support her initiative.
“What they are seeing is people quitting on Friday and taking same job on Monday,” Schneider said. “They want to see it stopped.”
Hearings on the bill are expected in the fall.
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