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What do annuitants do in state government?

Among the ideas proposed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to get the state out of its current budget crunch was to lay off 7,100 retired annuitants now working part-time for the state. These are generally older staffers who have retired from state service but can work up to 960 hours a year without jeopardizing their pensions.

Cutting these positions will clearly save the state money in the short term. But no one seems to know what the effect of losing these workers will be on state agencies-or even exactly what all of these annuitants are doing. While many annuitants do occasional clerical work, many others formerly held high-level positions in state government or are kept on call because they have specialized expertise. This group includes attorneys and engineers, as well as people who have whose careers have given them knowledge about the inner workings of the state bureaucracy.

Take Mary Thomas. She retired three years ago from her job in the personnel department of the Department of Transportation (Cal-Trans), but came in June in order to help her personal budget survive rising gas prices.

Thomas' job may not require a specialized degree, but she said experience still counts for a lot. It involves working with the department computer systems to route payroll, track the locations and working hours of crews in the field, and keep up with materials, equipment and inventory. Her office tracks every single job, installation of guardrails, repairs of potholes, even the care of vegetation in medians.

Her office staff consisted of three full-time staffers, herself, and another retired annuitant. Both Thomas and the other annuitant were cut from their jobs when Schwarzenegger signed the executive order last week.

"I just left last Thursday, and I had occasion to talk to one of the ladies there, and already right now they sound swamped, to tell you the truth," Thomas said.

Another annuitant forced out by the order is Marva Roddy, a registered nurse who said she wanted to keep working part-time for the state-but will now have to go out onto the white-hot private market for nurses.

These workers have been valuable enough to several state agencies that both the state and the California State Employees Association (CSEA) maintain lists of annuitants eligible to be hired. The state's Boomerang program can be found at https://boomerang.ca.gov/. It allows visitors to find out if they are eligible to be annuitants and to register to be on the list.

The CSEA, meanwhile, has a kept a list of eligible annuitants since at least the 1980s; their list currently has about 400 names on it. Information about the CSEA Retirees, Inc. Annuitant Program can be found at www.calcsea.org/retirees. The annuitants classification lets the state hold onto many of its best workers for a few more years, said CSEA Retirees president Roger Marxen.

"It's quite a program, because they keep people aboard who seem to have been good employees," Marxen said.

Far from just being clerical workers, somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of the annuitants are in "the professional class," including lawyers and engineers, Marxen said. This means that a lot of institutional knowledge is being forced out the door. These thoughts were echoed by John Barrett, a spokesman for the Franchise Tax Board. He said the FTB had 38 annuitants in a variety of positions.

"The few I know about are in pretty high level jobs,"Barrett said.

Others noted it is usually cheaper to hire an annuitant than a new part-time employee. Because of the special arrangement they have, the state does not pay healthcare, retirement or other benefits.

"Hiring someone as a retired annuitant gives us a cost-effective way to hire a retired professional with a proven track record of public service," said Jacob Roper, a spokesman with State Controller John Chiang's office. "They can be put to work in any part of State operations, usually to supplement additional needs in highly specialized areas. Annuitants allow us to quickly tap into a workforce with years of experience to staff up or down as needed at that time."

The Controller's office currently has 33 annuitants, all of whom will be staying. As a constitutional officer in his own right, these workers are Chiang's employees and not subject to the executive order. Chiang, meanwhile, has refused to go along with another key part of the order which lowers salaries for most state workers to the federal minimum wage of $6.55 an hour.

Another question is what happens to all these annuitants when the budget crisis ends. Gary Darr joined Cal-Trans in 1962, working for 40 years transportation engineering technician. After getting his in his work truck for the second time, he retired in 2002 and came to back part time in a Cal-Trans office, keeping track of a "dual database" keeping track of the location of accidents. Darr said that his supervisor has told him he'll be welcome back when and if this all blows over.

"I know when I get back to my desk, it will be a mess and the accident records will be piled a mile high, because there ain't nobody there to do them," Darr said.


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