Bill Whalen: Politi-Cal

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CA’s State Employees and Vacation Pay-Out$: Good Work if You Can Get It

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The Bible tells us that the wages of sin is death, but in California playing fast and loose with wage and salary rules makes for a pretty nifty retirement for state employees.

Or so a California Watch investigation has discovered, and reported over the weekend.

Warning: if the thought of wasted tax dollars raises your blood pressure, then you might not want to read this. Otherwise, here goes.

Among the highlights (or lowlights, depending on one’s perspective):

— In the past four years, nearly 500 government workers earned six-figure paychecks mostly for unused vacation.

— One worker combined vacation and compensatory time to walk away with more than $800,000 (that’s not a typo!).

— In total, the state spent $486 million between 2006 and mid-2009 to pay more than 52,000 employees for time-off benefits – which includes a small percentage of unused comp time and holidays that weren’t taken.

— Many of those cash payments appeared to violate rules designed to limit how much vacation time state workers can accumulate during their careers (most employees are allowed to bank 80 days worth of unused vacation).

— Blame it, in part, on shady management. State documents estimate that nearly 20% of non-union workers, typically managers, had surpassed their caps as of late-2008, compared to about 4% of union employees.

— The abuse is worsening. Personnel documents show that as of December 2008, more than 14,000 active state employees had already exceeded their vacation caps (fyi, out of a pool of roughly 237,000 state employees).

Two thoughts:

— It won’t take long for this to become a political hot potato, with Republicans saying it shows the need for rein-in government, and Democrats pushing back to defend the public-employee unions.

— The news comes just days after the Legislature’s Joint Legislative Audit Committee ok’d a request by State Sen. Leland Yee to open the books on the University of California’s finances. This, after a steady supply of bad press regarding the UC’s spending practices. Will anyone in the Legislature (and by that I mean a Democrat, with majority sway) put the same screws to the state’s payroll?

In the meantime, we have yet another case of deja vu all over again, as Yogi Berra liked to say. Back in the 2003 recall election, then-candidate Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called for a comprehensive audit of the state budget.

Which can mean only thing in this election year: talk of the big audit . . . will be back.

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Written by Bill Whalen

March 1, 2010 at 12:00 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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