I’m not Gov. Scott Walker’s biggest fan. While a balanced budget is important, some of his budget cuts have been simply ridiculous. It appears that Walker fails to appreciate the merits of a differentiated fiscal policy that makes adroit use of both tax cuts and stimulus spending.
Walker recently announced his support for the so-called “double-dipping bill,” introduced by Rep. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville. The bill aims to ban the practice of double-dipping, whereby state employees can retire and later return to their jobs – in the process, collecting both state-funded retirement benefits and a salary.
The practice has come to the attention of Wisconsin legislators after University of Wisconsin-Green Bay rehired Timothy Sewall. Sewall, the university’s associate provost, earns $110,000 a year – on top of his $44,000 pension.
Stroebel’s proposal to ban double-dipping makes good sense. State workers, whether they are high earners like Sewall or not, should not be able to exploit this legal loophole for financial gain. Retirement and employment are mutually exclusive categories – you cannot be both retired and employed. With that in mind, how is it fair for employees of the state to collect retirement benefits while maintaining employment for the state?
Stroebel believes some 6,000 public workers are currently double dipping, including some 447 employees of UW-Madison who have retired and then been re-hired since 1990. A full one-third of these 447 employees began double-dipping after Walker’s budget repair bill came into effect.
Walker is absolutely right to support the proposal. While some of his other cuts have verged on the draconian, double dipping is an exploitative practice that must be stopped.
Barry Burden, a professor of political science at UW-Madison, argues that the double-dipping practice is in fact financially beneficial to the state. “The practice often saves money in the short-term because the university is not paying fringe benefits on those employees,” said Burden, before questioning whether or not the practice is unethical at all.
While double dipping may not be as financially burdensome as it appears on the surface, to claim that it isn’t unethical is patently ridiculous. Workers should not be able to “retire” for just one month and then regain their employment with the added perks of retirement benefits. Professor Burden’s suggestion that it’s not all that bad is morally abhorrent.
The fact that one-third of these instances of double dipping at UW-Madison have happened since the budget repair bill is another cause for concern. Far be it from me to condone the bill’s substantive components – as I have said earlier, a lot of the cuts were overly severe – but the response of many UW-Madison employees is highly questionable.
The UW-Madison staff known to have double dipped range from low-paid custodial staff to Walter Dickey, the senior associate athletic director whose salary comfortably exceeds $100,000. While one can understand the temptation for low-paid staff to double dip in order to deal with the budget cuts that would put severe strain on their no doubt already stressful fiscal situation, that is no excuse for their actions. And for Dickey and others, there is simply nothing to be said – they have done the wrong thing.
Technically, what these employees have done is legal, but it is certainly not ethical, and they should not be prosecuted. After all, they were only doing what the budget cuts had, to some degree, forced them into – but it is still a morally ambiguous practice, to say the least.
Darrell Bazzell, UW-Madison’s vice chancellor for administration, has also stepped in to defend the practice, arguing that rehiring recent retirees provides the university with a short-term fix while they look for employees to fill the breach left by the mass exodus of employees in the wake of the budget repair bill.
Furthermore, university officials have also noted that 49 percent of the 447 “double dippers” were funded with non-state dollars. This is an important fact to note; the fiscal argument against double dipping is based on the fact that these people are embezzling taxpayer dollars for their own benefit.
That still doesn’t change the fact that what these workers have done is immoral and unethical. They have claimed retirement benefits when they are not actually retired – no matter which way you slice it, that just isn’t right.
Walker has done a lot of stupid and unpopular things during his tenure as governor, but supporting the double-dipping bill isn’t one of them. Banning double dipping is common sense. It isn’t another attempt by the Republicans to cut the social safety net – it’s about stopping unethical practices that are eating up taxpayer dollars that could be spent more effectively. I just hope all the flagrant liberals see that.
Shawn Rajanayagam ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in political science and American studies.