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Originally published June 29, 2010 at 3:34 PM | Page modified June 29, 2010 at 7:16 PM

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Higher-education double dipping should be retired

The Seattle Times editorial board argues that state employees should not be rehired at full-time jobs after retiring and applying for state pensions.

THE story in the Sunday Times by reporters Nick Perry and Justin Mayo on double dipping by higher-education officials calls for action by the Legislature. The state of Washington is in extreme financial straits and it is paying 2,000 employees retirement pensions and salaries at the same time.

It should be one or the other. A salary or a pension. Not both at once.

The story mentions Rich Rutkowski, president and chief executive of Green River Community College. He "retired" on Dec. 1, 2001, and went back to work. He has had a salary of $179,000 and a pension of $64,000.

Rutkowski, 67, has worked for the state since 1971. Recalling his "retirement," he said, "I had served 30 years and consequently was entitled to the pension. And, as far as the college was concerned, they needed a president." So he was "rehired," and has been paid for working and not working, at the same time.

Another is Greg Royer, 61, vice president for business and finance at Washington State University and an employee since 1973. He has been paid a salary of $304,000 and, since 2003, a pension of $105,000.

The "Plan One" pensions covering hires before the late 1970s are especially rich. After age 66, pensioners are entitled to annual cost-of-living increases, which are generally not available in the private sector.

According to the law for state pensioners, monthly benefits shall not be paid to anyone who has a prearrangement to retire, file for a pension, and have his job back. The officials in our story denied doing this, but the evidence says something else. At least one person interviewed, an office manager, said she had done it.

The real scandal, however, is not what is illegal, but what is legal — that for certain higher-ed employees, though not for most state workers, it is possible to collect a state pension and continue working at full pay and benefits.

That is not what pensions are for. Pensions were designed as an income for people who have stopped working. Pensions were also invented to entice older workers to move out so younger ones could move up.

Rutkowski and Royer have each announced his immediate retirement — real retirement. Unfortunately, their many years of service as educators are tarnished. They were supposed to be constructive examples for our state's college students. Instead, their last lesson is one about how to game the system.

The Legislature must change the law so that if state workers want to keep working, their pensions will wait.

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