Review Rules On ‘Double Dipping’

When a West Virginia public school teacher retires and begins collecting a state pension, he or she is discouraged from going back to work in a full-time state job. Earnings over a certain relatively low limit mean cuts in pension payments.

That’s how it is for most state government employees. They are barred from what is known as “double dipping” – that is, collecting a full pension while also drawing a full government salary.

Not everyone in government service has to live by that rule, however. A few people who have held jobs in the judicial system benefit from loopholes.

Several former judges have retired, then gone back to work to earn both full salaries and full pensions.

One, as it was reported recently, is really raking in the cash.

He is former Cabell County Judge Dan O’Hanlon, who retired and is receiving about $95,000 a year in pension benefits. But after leaving the bench, O’Hanlon became a vice chancellor for the state’s higher education system, earning $120,000 a year.

O’Hanlon’s defenders point out he also is director of the state agency handling Internet access for college and university campuses, but doesn’t accept a salary for that position. In effect, he is saving the state lots of money. And no one has questioned the quality of his work.

Perhaps O’Hanlon is providing something of a bargain for the state – but across West Virginia, there are thousands of other retired public employees who probably could do the same – and who would be delighted to collect both full pensions and full salaries. If nothing else, their experience could be helpful.

But the rule against double dipping means that for nearly all of them, going back to work would cost them pension benefits. No doubt many of them resent having to live by one set of rules while a few other retirees benefit from loopholes in the double dipping ban.

And it may well be that some in government, such as school superintendents, wish the rule did not make it almost impossible for them to benefit from the experience and expertise they could obtain by bringing a few former employees out of retirement.

State legislators should take another look at the rules on retirement benefits. If changes are desirable, they should be adopted – but the primary goal of a review should be to ensure that everyone plays by the same rule book.