Like to Stay Home, Get Full Salary, Be Fired Only if You Work? Then Olympia Wants You!

We now know the cost of paying state workers to stay home and do no work - $17.2 million in salaries and benefits over the past five years. Thank you, taxpayers. Your bill includes $247,000 paid to a prison psychiatrist to sit idly by his home phone for 14 months in case the state called to make sure he was doing nothing, since, if he actually did any work for the state, he'd be fired. As the doctor must have said to himself more than a few time, 'dis is nuts.

But it's a craziness that has gone on under Gov. Chris Gregoire's reign since at least 2006. That's all the farther KING-TV needed to go back through state records to get an idea of the costs of this screwball policy. The station's investigation determined that more than 1,000 workers during that period spent at least some time at home getting paid - 50 of them for a year or more.

The wasteful practice is set rolling by the state's labor contract with the Washington Federation of State Employees, which requires workers be suspended with pay when they're accused of on-the-job misconduct. It's an attempt to be fair to the accused. But state officials have allowed the system to get out of hand by failing to act promptly and rationally. No one even knew the program's costs until KING began tracking it.

One DSHS worker - accused of smuggling porn into the state sexual offender center - was home for 3 1/2 years, collecting nearly $200,000 in salary and benefits, including full medical coverage, vacation pay, sick pay and holiday pay. She also boosted her pension during that time.

Even the DSHS worker, who was eventually fired, thought the policy was a snafu. "You're either right or you're wrong," said Tammy Jo France. "And if I was wrong it shouldn't take you three and a half years to fire me."

Thanks to KING's reporting, Gov. Gregoire has issued a directive to all state agencies, instructing them to track home assignments and get special permission if an assignment lasts more than 15 days.

But that was after millions were spent on non-work work. As House Minority Deputy Leader Joel Kretz says, that's "money that comes out of the taxpayers' dollars that could be solving the budget problem. [It] could be going to schools, developmentally disabled people - you know, the real priorities."

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