Tax critics calling for pension reform after retired state worker gets $400,000 for unused vacation

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- Taxpayer advocates are blasting the state pension system for letting employees' bank years of unused vacation time and cash out with a six-figure check when they retire.

You may remember Bijan Sartipi from his years directing Caltrans District 4 based in the Oakland office building.

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When Sartipi retired from the state last year he had 4,400 hours of unused vacation time. That means the state compensated him for that with a check for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"We're very concerned from a taxpayer's perspective-- this should be very concerning," said Jon Coupal of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayer's Association. He added, "To the extent that these public employees are accruing and saving vacation for these six-figure payouts when they retire is very much out of line."

The Los Angeles Times analyzed payouts to Sartipi and other retirees. According to their analysis, Sartipi received $405,000 in vacation pay-- the equivalent of more than two years regular pay-- and he wasn't alone.

Last year California paid out more than $300-million to workers with unused vacation and holiday time. Added together, state workers had $3.5-billion in unused leave time in 2017.

Coupal blames this all on poor management.

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"I think as state budgets and local budgets are beginning to be squeezed we need to take a complete review, overview of our public employee compensation systems."

We reached out to former Caltrans district director Bijan Sartipi. He said he was "surprised at being singled out" for the Times article. Saying, especially because of "the time I missed being with my family." He also said the job was "especially demanding during the furloughs when we worked long hours with no chance for time off."

That's when the state faced a $42-billion budget deficit from 2008 through 2012 and laid some workers off without pay.

State lawmakers say reforming the pension system would mean taking on powerful employee unions, and no one has the stomach for that-- at least not right now.
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