Senate President Donna Kim under fire for campaign tactics used in Congressional race

BY JIM DOOLEY- Of 5,000 state and county employees who retired since 2009, 674 of them substantially boosted

Sen. Donna Kim

their pension benefits by a practice called “spiking,” a state senate investigating committee was told today.

A “spiking” employee arranges to work as many hours of overtime as possible over the last three years of service, knowing that the extra pay will disproportionately boost pensions at retirement.

Wesley Machida, head of the state Employees Retirement System, said a $50,000-per-year worker is entitled to a $33,476 pension after 30 years of service.

The same worker who “spikes” the last three years of pay to $200,000 annually will collect a $120,000 pension, Machida said.

The practice is most commonly found in public safety and public health organizations and contributes to the state pension system’s staggering $8.15 billion unfunded liability, said Machida.

Pension calculations for state and county employees begin by averaging the workers’ three highest years of pay before retirement.

Machida said if the worker earning $50,000 in base pay consistently worked a lot of overtime through the course of his career, enough matching contributions would have been made to pension system to cover the extra pension benefits.

But when the earnings spike at the end of a career, extra contributions aren’t nearly enough to cover the corresponding pension increase, said Machida.

The state is looking for ways to stop the spiking phenomenon. At least 15 other states have anti-spiking laws, according to Machida.

Opportunities for working numerous overtime hours are highest in organizations which require round-the-clock staffing like police and fire departments, hospitals and prisons.

Officials of the state Public Safety Department, Health Department and the Honolulu Emergency Services Department testified today that personnel shortages and collective bargaining agreements have limited their abilities to curtail overtime expenses.

The hearing was conducted by Sen. Donna Kim, D-14th (Moanalua, Aiea, Fort Shafter, Kalihi Valley, Halawa Valley), chair of Special Committee on Accountability.

Kim has introduced two resolutions authorizing state Auditor Marion Higa to study state departments with high rates of overtime pay.

 

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Jim Dooley joined the Hawaii Reporter staff as an investigative reporter in October 2010. Before that, he has worked as a print and television reporter in Hawaii since 1973, beginning as a wire service reporter with United Press International. He joined Honolulu Advertiser in 1974, working as general assignment and City Hall reporter until 1978. In 1978, he moved to full-time investigative reporting in for The Advertiser; he joined KITV news in 1996 as investigative reporter. Jim returned to Advertiser 2001, working as investigative reporter and court reporter until 2010. Reach him at Jim@hawaiireporter.com