Sunday, May 15, 2011

This Day in Lavish Perks California's Public Employees Enjoy

The LA Times reports on yet another reason why tax extensions shouldn't be used to bail out cash-strapped government agencies in California: last year, 29% of the nearly 14,000 state workers who took lump-sum payments for unused vacation time at retirement got checks for more than 80 days' pay, with nearly 400 getting checks equaling or exceeding their annual salary. A prison doctor named Fong Lai received almost $600,000 in unused days when he retired last year; a parole officer named Thomas Berns got almost $270,000. These payouts are based on the employee's final salary, rather than the salary the employee was paid at the time each hour was accrued, so like pensions, they're affected by spiking. And some workers avoid losing vacation time by burning through unused time (i.e., not coming in to work for weeks) just before retirement. Granted, some public employees (such as firefighters) are frequently exempt from the 80-day cap when emergencies require them to go without vacation for extended periods. But the size of the problem suggests that many agencies statewide are ignoring the rule that retirees can't bank more than 80 days of vacation time.

The Times reports on this as though it's revealing the issue for the first time, but the only revelation being made here is the scale of the problem; people like Steven Greenhut have pointed out its existence before. Nevertheless, as Jerry Brown prepares a new budget proposal, this research suggests something else that could be eliminated in lieu of raising taxes. Insofar as, you know, these payouts to retiring state workers offer no value whatsoever to the taxpayer.


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