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Calif. Workers Retire With Hefty Cash Payouts for Unused Vacation

It's little wonder that California is $20 billion in the red. Last week, we pointed out an Orange County Register story about lawmakers racking up millions in per diem expenses. This week, California Watch reports that state employees are leaving their jobs with hundreds of thousands of dollars in hand, thanks to accrued unused vacation time -- on which state limits are routinely flouted.

According to the article:

In the past four years, nearly 500 government workers earned six-figure paychecks mostly for unused vacation. In total, the state spent $486 million between 2006 and mid-2009 to pay more than 52,000 employees for time-off benefits -- which includes a small percentage of unused comp time and holidays that weren't taken.

Take, for instance, the former president of the State Compensation Insurance Fund, who was fired in 2007 after an investigation "uncovered serious abuses at the highest levels." His parting gift: $550,000 for unused vacation time, which amounted to six times the state limit.

In fact, supervisors "routinely" let employees exceed the limit on vacation time that can be cashed out (usually 80 days). According to California Watch, the state likely paid out at least $100 million between 2006 and mid-2009 to employees who exceeded that cap, which is already higher than those in other large states like New York and Texas.

Julie Chapman, chief deputy director of policy at the state Department of Personnel Administration, said efforts at reform have been abandoned in the face of opposition from unions (who say that managers are to blame for the problem, not rank-and-file workers) and organizations like the Association of California State Supervisors.

Meanwhile, many departments "argue that the unique and unpredictable nature of their work demands that employees take less vacation time than they earn, leaving them to accumulate large totals," the article said.

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