AUGUSTA – A bill to ease pay restrictions on retired teachers who return to work will have slim chances for approval when it goes to the Legislature next month, after the Appropriations Committee voted 7-4 Tuesday not to recommend passage.

Sen. Dawn Hill, D-Cape Neddick, sponsored L.D. 1632 after hearing complaints from teachers about restrictions established last fall to allow teachers to earn only 75 percent of their normal pay if they return to work after retiring — commonly called double-dipping.

Hill said she thought the restrictions would apply to superintendents only, but when the law passed last year, it applied to all state workers, superintendents and teachers.

“I’m focusing on the teachers here,” she said Tuesday during deliberations by the Appropriations Committee. “Teachers, in my opinion, get paid far too little for what they do, so their pensions reflect that.”

Hill said changes that lawmakers made last year to the state’s pension system, including a freeze in cost-of-living increases and the 75 percent return-to-work pay limit, are hurting teachers. That’s why she wants to exempt them from the limit.

“It seems to me they are sort of getting a double-whammy here as opposed to double-dipping,” she said.

The 7-4 vote fell along party lines, with Republicans opposing the bill and Democrats supporting it. With Republican majorities in the House and Senate, the bill likely won’t survive a first round of voting. It will be among the bills considered when lawmakers return to Augusta on May 15.

After Hill introduced her bill, the Kennebec Journal and The Portland Press Herald filed Freedom of Access Act requests with the Maine Public Employees Retirement System for a database showing how many state workers and school employees have retired and returned to work. State law allows workers to retire, begin collecting monthly pension checks, then receive paychecks if they go back to work.

Until the 75 percent limit took effect in September, retired superintendents and others could get 100 percent of the typical pay for the positions they filled.

An analysis of the database shows that 1,228 Mainers worked in the public sector in 2011 while collecting their Maine state pensions. The top 10 took in an average of $168,000. Many on the list retired and immediately returned to work. Others left jobs but returned to work years later for financial or other reasons.

Eighty-six percent of the double-dippers worked for Maine school districts. They ranged from experienced superintendents to retired teachers who filled in as substitutes. The rest worked in state government.

During Appropriations Committee deliberations this week, at least one senator who previously supported Hill’s bill decided to vote against it. Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, co-sponsored the legislation, but was one of seven Republican committee members to vote “ought not to pass.”

“People coming out of college, excited to enter the teaching profession, are having difficulty finding jobs,” he said. “To the extent that people returning to teaching from retirement makes that situation more difficult, I think it’s a problem for us.”

Rep. Patrick Flood, R-Winthrop, House chairman of the committee, said he agrees with the LePage administration’s view that it looks bad to the public when people who collect state pensions are allowed to return to work at full pay.

Rep. David Webster, D-Freeport, one of the four committee members who support the legislation, said schools should have the ability to hire good teachers back from retirement for full pay.

“I would think that we would want to make certain that if a district wants a teacher, needs a teacher, that we make it possible for them,” he said. “It’s really about making certain the students get the education and support they need.”

State House Writer Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at:

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