MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Government employees would have to stay off the public payroll more than twice as long as is currently required under a change to state law approved by the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee on Tuesday.
The Republican-controlled panel, on a party line vote, generally supported Gov. Scott Walker's proposal included in his state budget. The change made affects the practice known as double dipping. That involves a public employee retiring, then getting rehired for their old job while also collecting retirement benefits.
Under the committee's 12-4 vote, teachers, university professors and other public workers would be required to take a 75-day break from public service before they could return. The current minimum is 30 days.
The proposal would also disallow anyone who is re-hired from collecting their retirement benefits during the time they are employed, if they are working at least two-thirds time. Working two-thirds time is defined as 1,392 hours annually.
The changes would only apply to people who retire after the new law takes effect.
The committee rejected even tougher restrictions backed by some Republicans in the Legislature that would bar collecting retirement benefits even if they are working halftime.
Rep. John Nygren, the Republican co-chair of the budget committee, said their solution made sense.
"This is a very reasonable and measured approach to a situation we've had some glaring weaknesses with," Nygren said.
Democrats spoke out against the changes, saying they will make it more difficult for school districts in rural areas and others, like technical colleges that hire retired law enforcement officials for training, to fill high-need positions.
"We might see some unintended consequences from this," said Rep. Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse.
But supporters of tightening the restrictions say it's not right to let workers collect their pension while also getting a salary. A Legislative Audit Bureau report from December found that only 26 of the nearly 2,800 rehires on the state level chose to suspend their retirement benefits during their return stints.
The audit also found that the University of Wisconsin System and state agencies rehired 2,783 annuitants from the beginning of 2007 through early 2012. More than 1,000 school districts and local governments reported hiring 2,599 annuitants between January 2011 and March 2012. The vast majority of the rehires worked fewer hours for a year or less.
In one high profile case from 2011, UW-Green Bay Vice Chancellor for Finance and Business Tom Maki negotiated a new contract shortly before he retired. He was rehired to the same position three weeks later, enabling him to collect tens of thousands of dollars in annuities as well as his six-figure salary. An investigation concluded the re-hire didn't conform to state policy and Maki resigned.
The Joint Finance Committee is working on changes to Walker's budget before sending it to the Senate and Assembly, both controlled by Republicans, next month. It must clear both houses and be signed by Walker before taking effect.
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