Friday, April 10, 2009

Governor Flip Flops on Double Dipping!

On Friday, Gov. Bill Richardson changed his mind and vetoed a bill aimed to place more stringent restrictions on "double dippers." The issue has been in the spotlight ever since a local TV reporter chronicled several state workers who had "faked" their retirement and still collecting both a salary and pension.

The governor is allowed to change his mind, but on a windy afternoon in late February, Richardson told me personally he was going to sign legislation that would have curtailed the practice.

He said the double dipping was being abused and it needed to be restricted.

Richardson agreed it hurts the morale of many state employees "we're trying to move up" the ladder in state government.

Listen to our short one-minute conversation where the Governor promised to "sign it."

New Mexico Independent reporter Marjorie Childress wrote here that Richardson believes the system is generally “fair and efficient,” but that he does share concerns that it’s being abused.

Richardson said:
While in general this system is both fair and efficient — and provides for an experienced talent pool from which public agencies can hire skilled management and technical employees — in a few high profile, high salary cases there has been a perception in some quarters that this system has been abused. Frankly, I share that concern.

HB 616 was State Representative Lucky Varela. It would have required state workers to wait at least 365 days before being rehired. Their new salaries would have been capped at $35,000.

Earlier this week the Governor received a letter from NM Attorney General Gary King saying parts of the bill sent to the 4th floor for the Governor's signature could be unconstitutional.

Earlier this week, the Governor told me that he was measuring the public sentient and had polled state workers on their view of the proposed law. He also wanted to determine the fiscal impact of the contentious bill before making today's decision.

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Anonymous said...

I love it when a news story causes a knee jerk reaction to create a political football. The story in case, “double dippers” in government.

Granted, from some experience, nothing pleases the news media more than to stir up a controversy over “one of my stories.” That is the duty of the news media to point out faults or injustices and the need for correction. It is also the duty of the body at fault or in question to defend or correct what may be perceived as a problem.

It’s the resulting confused scramble for an answer to the voters which is just as interesting.

News media reports say that the Governor is still “mulling” over a decision whether or not to sign HB616 that places certain restrictions on what government employees can retire and when and if they can return to work in the same government job.

A question to pose to Rep. Lucky Varela D-Santa Fe ( sponsor of HB616) is, “what if legislators or elected officials would fall under the same conditions?”

What is the difference between a government employee who has served a lengthy time serving the public and is asked to return, versus an elected official?

Obviously, both are experienced, both are asked by their employers to return because of a good job they have done (I would assume the voting public is considered an employer.) An argument may be immediately made that the government employee is making more money than the politician. In light of recent events involving the courts and elected officials (some who return as lobbyists), there is definitely extra money to be made for politicians to stick around.

Rep. Varela says it denies opportunities to young people who would like to advance and a detriment to speak out. Well, how long have some of elected officials stayed lengthy terms in office and with their political connections or larger campaign chests cut off the voice of those who might seek that elected office?

Rep. Varela calls the Governor’s poll of state employees “anemic” and a general poll of the public should have been done. If it’s such a good idea, why didn’t Rep. Varela commission such a poll before taking such quick action? Perhaps, the appearance of a news story to jump into the spotlight?

Finally, thanks to our system, many of those “double dippers” may be forced to return to work after the economic returns on the state PERA investments, that were supposed to be monitored and regulated.

Reform in the “double dipper “system is required. There are definitely abusers, but right now there are generalizations and a knee jerk, political reaction trying to force action.

Orlando Medina

Peter St. Cyr said...

Orlando...That's why many people support term limits for elected officials, but keep in mind the court's have found them to be unconstitutional. Just look at the ABQ Mayor's office. Chavez took the limits to court, a few years after councilors did the same thing, and won. Now he's planning to run for his third straight term.

Anonymous said...

Varela is a case in point for cronyism and needing to walk the walk. He has been in the same position for how long, now? Maybe it's time for him to step aside and let someone younger fill that spot. It's demoralizing to see someone stay in a place and not let "new blood" in.

Then there's the whole ordeal with his son and daughter in law. His son took a new job whereby he could no longer serve on the PERA board, so he found a way to get his wife put in that position. Then, Varela 1 has been pushing double dipper legislation. However, the legislators found a way to exempt themselves and their legislative workers. Isn't that convenient?

It's always interesting when people pull stunts, then criticize others. I guess the Varelas think all the rest of us are way less intelligent than them.