Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Figuring the Real Cost of the Sick Leave Policy

Before some people get themselves into a tizzy over news that the sick leave policy for elected state officials isn't going anywhere, at least for awhile, can the LAB or the LFB do an audit to find out the actual amount of sick leave time that's converted to pay for retiree health care premiums?

While tabulating the total number of hours that people accumulate is great for an eye-catching story that helps sell papers or a press statement aimed at generating political support, it isn't really all that informative for the policy debate.

As the Recess Supervisor noted back in November: "Just because Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson has banked half a million in sick leave doesn't mean she's going to come anywhere close to spending all of it. She'd probably have to live another three epochs to do that."

Once we see what the actual cost of the sick leave compensation is to the state, it'll be easier to weigh the possible options for reform.

Perhaps better sick time reporting is all that's needed, as Governor Doyle is proposing. Perhaps sick time should be converted into a dollar amount after each year, rather than at the end of a person's career when the conversion rate is highest, as Bruce Murphy has proposed. Perhaps it's best to do away will the policy altogether, after all.

But we won't really know what needs to be done until we really know the actual cost.

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12 Comments:

Blogger Dad29 said...

I disagree, at least in the case of legislators.

They are paid a salary which does not vary with "hours worked," whatever they may be.

In addition, they are awarded 'sick day' compensation.

NOBODY in private industry has that kind of deal, at least on paper. In private industry, sick-time is docked from a paycheck unless one uses sick-leave--and even then, the sick-leave expires after a very short time (usually 30 days max) whereupon short-term-disability insurance kicks in.

In other words, this is NOT a matter of "cost." It is a matter of double-dipping.

February 21, 2007  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

Legislators do present a stickier problem than other state elected officials, such as the governor, judges, DAs, etc., since it's not explicitly required that they follow a standard work week (although some probably do). But the bill before the legislature doesn't just concern legislators, it concerns all state elected officials, which is why it's necessary to determine the actual cost before proceeding.

February 21, 2007  
Blogger Daniel Cody said...

I don't think I'm following you. Where do you work that accrued sick leave expires after 30 days?

Nobody in private industry could get away with paying someone $48,000 a year for the work that legislators do either, and that's the entire point that conservatives seem to be missing.

I don't know about you, but I'm for more "regular" people working in public service, not more fat cats who don't need insurance due to personal wealth.

February 21, 2007  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

Dan makes a good point about needing to consider overall legislator compensation. If this benefit is elimated for legislators, increasing compensation somewhere else -- where it maybe makes a little more sense for the type of work week that legislators follow -- may be warranted. But that, too, requires knowing how much the sick leave benefit actually costs the state and compensates legislators.

February 21, 2007  
Blogger Dad29 said...

$48K? Puhleeeeeezzzzzze.

TAX-FREE per diems, boys.

Reality check: these guys make about the equivalent of $70K (after tax effects)--and that's assuming that the per-diems were honestly collected.

BTW, a lot of private businesses will grant (unofficially) 30 days' pay for sick leave, unless there's a very strong union presence which, after all, bargained a contract.

Finally, we don't NEED a full-time legislature. Their work-time as Leggies should be cut back to part-time, allowing them to have actual real jobs (paying the taxes they seem to think are required...)

February 22, 2007  
Blogger Daniel Cody said...

$45,569 is the salary for State legislators in Wisconsin, the lowest among the 9 or 10 states that have full time legislators.

While their per-diems are tax free, their salaries aren't. The average per-diem is around $10k/year, when even added to their PRE tax salary is $55k/year so I don't know where you're getting $70K/year from.

Regardless, I reiterate my point above that we need fewer people in office who don't need benefits and more who do know what it's like to be living on a wage more in line with the rest of Wisconsin.

February 22, 2007  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

Dan's actually a little high on the average per diem. According to 2006 figures, the average was just under $7000 per year. The highest per diem of any legislator last year was $13,640, which would put the yearly pay at just over $59K and well short of $70K.

February 22, 2007  
Blogger Daniel Cody said...

Thanks for the correction Seth, I was trying to find the article you linked to myself for the exact numbers, so I went on the high side of an estimate when I couldn't find it.

February 22, 2007  
Blogger James Wigderson said...

I think we're losing sight of the problem. Whether or not you feel the members of the legislature are under or over compensated is a separate question of whether an elected official whose compensation is unattached to the hours actually worked should receive "sick time" or whther that "sick time" should be used to hide a health care benefit.

If Seth and Dan really believe the health care benefit is appropriate for members of the legislature, then they should be encouraging their legislators to propose such a benefit separate from any fictitious "sick leave" policy.

I'll give the example of Governor Doyle's hip surgery today (when you dance around the truth as much as he does...). Does anyone really believe it matters if he punched a time clock today or not? If he put an "S" on his time card for the next few days?

February 22, 2007  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

People absolutely should be concerned if Doyle isn't taking sick time for an ailment that keeps him away from the office on a day that he otherwise would be there.

As I said in the post and again in the comments, I'm not saying that the sick leave policy shouldn't be eliminated for state legislators; all I'm saying is that people need to tone down the outrage over the total number of hours that are accumulated since those numbers don't explain the impact of this policy on the state. By seeing the actual cost of this policy, it's possible to weigh the benefit against Dan's legitimate concerns about keeping legislative work a reasonable option for people who may not be independently wealthy like Alberta Darling or Sheldon Wasserman (who, as it happens, are the two leading the charge to eliminate the policy without any concern for how much it would actually help the state fiscally or impact the overall compensation of legislators).

February 23, 2007  
Blogger Dad29 said...

Quick clean-up: I said that the per-diems increase Leggie salaries to around $70K AFTER THE TAX-EFFECT of untaxable per-diems. I'd be happy to concede that it's more like $60K. But having $7K added direct to the bottom line is like having $10-12K added to the top-line, AFTER TAX.

Gehr Ste'h?

Wiggy's right, Seth. None of our elected officials should have "sick leave" because they can take all the time they want to be "sick" and STILL get full pay.

It's double-dipping any other way.

OTHER State employees (the non-elected) operate under different 'rules of work.'

February 23, 2007  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

None of our elected officials should have "sick leave" because they can take all the time they want to be "sick" and STILL get full pay.

That sounds to me like a reporting issue. DAs, state judges, the governor, etc., should not be able to simply not show up at work one day and not report why. For the most part, those people need to be on the job every work day. The number of days legislators need to be on the job is probably less than those in a more executive/managerial role like DAs and the governor, so that certainly needs to be taken into consideration.

But, even when just focusing on legislators, moving forward with eliminating a portion of legislator compensation without knowing the actual cost or benefit of that compensation is both foolish and reactionary.

February 23, 2007  

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