Double-dipping could compromise state’s retirement system

Posted at 5:44 PM, May 22, 2012
and last updated 2012-05-23 00:24:41-04

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) - State retirement; 340,000 Virginians are working toward it -- anticipating the day when they collect their hard-earned pension and benefits once they retire.

"They're expecting something in return and the government has promised it to them," said Audrey Jackson of watchdog group Americans for Prosperity.

Now on the heels of a CBS 6 investigation about retirees potentially taking advantage of the system, Jackson is weighing in. After seeing our story, she claimed that what we uncovered could compromise the retirements of many government employees.

"The money is not going to be there," said Jackson.

Our recent story delved in to allegations of double dipping in the Richmond Public School system.  

We explored allegations that retirees were collecting a pension and a hefty paycheck at the same time.

We discovered that roughly 15% of RPS employees are retired and now working temporary jobs back in the system. Some of them have been holding the jobs for years and paying nothing back in to the retirement system the way a full time employee would.

"Manipulating the system the way that it appears these folks are, it's frankly draining the system more than it already is," said Jackson.

Jackson noted that Virginia Retirement System is already struggling financially.

"There's not money to pay them out if they all retire right now," she said.

That's a fact, according to state lawmakers. In fact if every educator in VRS who is eligible to retire did so today, the system would have only enough money to pay about 66 % of them. 

"We're trying to save every dollar in VRS we can," said Virginia House Majority Leader Kirk Cox.

Cox is also a teacher of nearly 30 years and has plans to retire in June.

"Done it forever, love teaching, teach government," he said.

Cox says reforming VRS was a key priority this session. It had to be. Cox admits having the education retirees only 66 % funded isn't ideal.

"We want that funded status up, that was one of the reasons for the reforms," said Cox.

In order to try and boost the VRS bank, the general assembly mandated that VRS members would now pay in 5 %in to the system. This is an effort to get the system fully funded.

Given those efforts, we asked Cox to respond to our investigation specifically to the effect of having 332 retirees back in the system who are not contributing a dime to VRS.

"If I was that particular school system that number would be something I would look in to," said Cox.

Cox believes retirees have a place in the workforce, but on a very limited basis.

"If it is a bridge, if you really need it, there's a stop time that you have, a plan about when you're going to put a full time employee in that position," he said.

Jackson contends that over using retirees not only hurts VRS, but also stifles job possibilities in a tough economy.

"There's a lot of young teachers out there that would probably be willing to fill these jobs," said Jackson.

VRS won't tell us if they're taking an action as a result of the numbers we've uncovered or even if they're looking in to it.

But lawmakers and watchdogs agree that preserving the fairness of the system should be a top priority. It affects every Virginia government retiree.

"That's crucial for them that there be integrity in the system, there's no question about that," said Cox.

Depend on CBS 6 News for continuing coverage of this investigation.