Martinez takes position on double dipping
A 2003 law that allowed all retired public employees to return to work and collect a paycheck and pension at the same time went too far because it allowed for abuse, Republican gubernatorial candidate Susana Martinez says.
But a new law that puts an end to what many call “double dipping” also goes too far because it eliminates incentives for public safety workers to return to work after retiring, she says. The new law forces those who retire after June 30 of this year to temporarily give up their pension if they return to work.
Martinez has not been on the record about double dipping in the past, which is why NMPolitics.net decided to ask for her view on it as the new law takes effect. As it turns out, Martinez’s position isn’t too far from that of her Democratic opponent, Diane Denish.
But Martinez’s position is especially noteworthy given that her husband, Chuck Franco, is currently earning an annual salary of $76,523.20 as Doña Ana County’s undersheriff and a gross monthly pension of $2,123.86 from his 2001 retirement. Undersheriffs are among the few public employees who were allowed to collect a paycheck and pension at the same time before the 2003 law took effect – but there is no exemption for undersheriffs in the new law.
Martinez said the 2003 return-to-work law, which allowed all public employees to draw a salary and pension at the same time if they waited 90 days after retiring to return to work, “swung the door open too broadly and led to double-dipping abuse in state and local government.”
“There were cases of individuals who would ‘retire’ at 5 p.m. one day only to return to their desk at 9 a.m. the very next day in the same position, and the only thing that changed was that they were now receiving a pension, as well as their full salary,” Martinez said. “This was not fair to the taxpayer, nor was it fair to other government employees who were denied opportunities to advance.”
However, Martinez said, the new law, which took effect Thursday, also creates “new challenges.” She said the “experience and continued service” of police officers and firefighters, who can retire after 20 years, is “often critical to maintain the highest level of public safety.” Many “return to leadership roles in our police and fire departments, such as chiefs,” Martinez said, though she did not mention her husband by name.
The new law will make it more difficult to find experienced public safety employees from New Mexico willing to take such jobs, especially in smaller communities, Martinez said, which leaves it to out-of-state retirees who move to New Mexico to fill such jobs because they don’t face similar restrictions.
Martinez said the state “must provide incentives to encourage public safety personnel to return to work after retirement, or not leave the force in the first place, and I am committed to considering all options that will accomplish this goal without once again opening the door to double-dipping abuse.”
You can read Martinez’s full statement here.
Franco leaving undersheriff job
Martinez’s husband, Franco, has been undersheriff for about 5.5 years. He started his career in 1978 as a patrolman with the Las Cruces Police Department and stayed there 17 years. After a three-year stint as a magistrate judge – which didn’t count toward his law enforcement retirement – Franco joined the county sheriff’s department in 1998. He retired with 20 years of service in 2001.
Soon thereafter, Franco returned to work, taking a teen coordinator job with a City of Las Cruces afterschool program funded by the Department of Justice. Franco worked in that job for two years and as a patrolman and investigator with the New Mexico State University Police Department for another two years before becoming undersheriff.
Franco has already announced that he will leave his job at the end of the year regardless of whether his boss, Sheriff Todd Garrison wins re-election. He told the Las Cruces Sun-News last month that he was doing that to support his wife’s career.
Denish’s statement on double dipping
Denish has opposed double dipping during the Legislature’s debate on whether to end the practice. But Denish has said that there may be some agencies, such as rural law enforcement departments, that need double dipping to hire qualified workers. She reiterated that in a statement provided this weekend.
While the new law grandfathers in existing retirees who draw a paycheck and a pension at the same time, Denish said she wanted to force them to choose one or the other. Martinez didn’t take a position on that issue.
Here’s the full statement Denish provided on double dipping this weekend:
“I oppose double dipping and was one of the leading voices in pushing the state to do away with the practice. Double dippers take advantage of a loophole at the expense of taxpayers at a time when government should be looking at every possible avenue for savings. During these tough times, the state simply cannot afford to be paying people twice.
“However, I recognize that this practice might be necessary in narrow circumstances where it has proven difficult to recruit qualified candidates to fill critical positions, such as in a rural law-enforcement setting. These exceptions should be narrowly defined and should only be allowed if there are no other qualified candidates. I believe current double dippers should be required to make a choice between their pension or their salary, but I understand there are some legal issues that still need to be resolved to require them to make that choice.”
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