Public Corruption Central, Connecticut
State Has Rehired More Than 500 Newly Retired Workers
By JON LENDER The Hartford Courant
September 23, 2009
More than 500 of the 3,856 state workers who retired in June and July as part of a special state program to cut costs are still collecting regular twice-monthly paychecks even as they receive pension payments amounting to millions of dollars each month, records obtained by The Courant show.
The retirements were part of the highly touted Retirement Incentive Program approved this year by the legislature and Gov. M. Jodi Rell to cut annual costs for salaries and benefits by millions of dollars.
But a report from Rell's budget office shows that 509 retirees from the incentive program have been approved for temporary rehirings. And pay records obtained from the state comptroller show that 400 of them — who get a total of $1.8 million a month in pension payments — also received more than $600,000 in the regular two-week payroll of Sept. 11, a rate of $1.2 million a month.
Overall, 716 state retirees — including the new retirees and those who retired before this year's incentive program — have come back for "temporary" work on the regular payroll, according to the comptroller's computerized records.
All or most of them are working as what are popularly called "120-day wonders" — under a long-standing program in which retirees return to state jobs for up to 120 days each year to fill gaps in expertise or manpower.
The Courant reported early this year that many of these 120-day retirees return routinely, year after year, in a manner not originally intended for the program, which was designed to provide workers to fill in until a replacement or some other solution could be found.
In reaction, Rell had said that "there have been too many reports of abusive double-dipping," and that she would impose limitations on the 120-day program when the Retirement Incentive Program was implemented in June and July. "All such contracts will have to be approved through my office and the retirees will come back at no more than 75 percent of their previous salary," she said. Retirees from the executive branch would be limited to two 120-day contracts.
Rell's budget officials said they had adopted a strict approval process and would let retirees come back to work only if absolutely necessary. The governor's restrictions on the 120-day retirees' contracts apply only to executive-branch agencies under her control. They do not apply to state universities, the judicial branch, the legislature and quasi-public institutions such as development authorities.
The comptroller's list shows that of the 400 recent retirees from the incentive program, about 140 are back working at colleges and universities — with 83 at the University of Connecticut alone.
On Monday, The Courant approached Rell's office with the list of 400 returned retirees that it generated from the comptroller's data, asking whether the return of that many retirees to the payroll was in keeping with the cost-cutting goals of the incentive program.In response, the governor's budget office, the Office of Policy and Management, supplied a list showing that 509 "temporary worker retiree" positions had been approved, and an OPM official said all are now on the job.
Officials could not reconcile the two agencies' lists. The comptroller's list included names, job descriptions and salary amounts — but it contained about 100 fewer positions than OPM's list, which had no names or dollar amounts.
"We do not yet have more elaborate documents at OPM on this topic," OPM Undersecretary Jeffrey Beckham said in a Monday e-mail response to The Courant. "I will seek answers to your questions, but I know we assumed a certain refill rate as well as some temporary worker retirees in our estimate of savings and we are ahead of our estimated savings for the biennium even with the refills and rehires we have approved." The biennium is the two-year budget period ending June 20, 2011.
This year's incentive program has been estimated to save more than $100 million a year.
Beckham said Tuesday that he was unable to provide detailed responses because he was tied up all day in preparations for today's special session of the General Assembly on "budget implementation" legislation.
Perhaps the biggest question left unanswered by the disparities between the two agencies' lists is whether the total number of retirees rehired is even higher than the 509 listed by OPM. Among those 509 rehires, OPM shows only one under the category of higher education.
Officials had no explanation for why the governor's budget agency would show only one retiree having been rehired at a state college or university, while the comptroller's actual pay records show 140 such retirees still on the Sept. 11 payroll.
If that number from the payroll list were added to the 509 on OPM's list, the total of rehired retirees would climb close to 650. OPM and the governor's office do not have approval power over the university's rehiring of retirees for temporary work — mostly professors, records show — but OPM generally keeps a record of higher education spending.
The Courant sent Beckham an e-mail inquiring about the disparity in the lists and whether the total could be far higher than 509. This was one of the questions he said he did not have time to answer.
The OPM list showed the greatest number of "temporary worker retiree" positions at two state agencies — the departments of developmental services, with 223, and mental health and addiction services, with 127.
The comptroller's list shows some prominent names. Deputy Treasurer Howard Rifkin, who retired July 1, receives a $10,100 monthly pension payment and was paid $3,772 on the regular Sept. 11 twice-monthly payroll. Jeffrey Garfield, executive director of the State Elections Enforcement Commission, who retired in July, receives a $7,700 monthly pension payment and was paid $4,341 on the Sept. 11 payroll.
None of the records from the state agencies said how long any of the retirees are scheduled to remain on the payroll or whether they will fill out the maximum 120 days permitted each year under the program.
Copyright © 2009, The Hartford Courant